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A Black woman hit the jackpot. A bank wouldnt cash the check, lawsuit says.


“I was frustrated, I was upset, I had been accused to be a thief.”

AP Photo/John Locher, File

By Julian Mark, Washington Post

When Lizzie Pugh hit the jackpot while playing a slot machine game at a Michigan casino in April, she was ecstatic.

It felt amazing, the 71-year-old from Detroit told The Washington Post. Shed won $20,000.

However when it came time and energy to cash the check two days later, that feeling evaporated. Pugh, who’s Black, claims in a fresh lawsuit that employees at a Detroit-area Fifth Third Bank branch informed her that the check from the casino was fraudulent, took it from her and wouldn’t normally return it. She eventually first got it back that day and deposited it at her usual bank without issues, Pugh said.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 29 in federal court in Michigans Eastern District, alleges that Pughs race was a motivating element in the employees actions and that the lender violated her civil rights by discriminating against her.

Im a 71-year-old woman which has exactly the same rights as everyone else, Pugh told The Post.

Ed Loyd, a spokesman for the lender, said that after reviewing the claims, we believe our employees actions were well intentioned and also have been misinterpreted.

The employees were following a banks fraud-prevention procedures, Loyd said, as fraud is consistently among our customers top concerns.

At Fifth Third, we have been focused on fair and responsible banking and prohibit discrimination of any sort, he said. Our employees are trained to greatly help every person making use of their banking needs customer or non-customer while minimizing the chance of any potential fraud.

Having said that, we regret Ms. Pugh has come away feeling mistreated after her interactions at our branch. We never want you to definitely believe that way, he said.

Pugh, a retiree, won the jackpot while on a journey to the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort, about 120 miles northwest of Detroit, with her church group in April. She hadnt realized she had scored big until two smiling casino employees approached her and informed her that shed won $20,000, Pugh told The Post.

I couldnt believe I had just won that sort of money, she said.

Pugh said she paid the taxes at the casino, and something of her sons suggested she open a checking account at a bank apart from the main one she normally uses. Thats what led Pugh to the Fifth Third Bank in Livonia, just west of Detroit.

Following a short wait, Pugh met with a White bank employee and explained that she wished to deposit the check from the casino right into a new checking account, based on the lawsuit. The employee asked what Pugh did for work, however when the 71-year-old said she was retired and won the amount of money at a casino, the employee told Pugh that she believed the check was fraudulent and may not deposit it, based on the lawsuit.

The employee refused to provide the check back and had a colleague, who was simply also White, inspect the check, based on the lawsuit. That employee also insisted the check was fake and said Pugh cannot own it back, the lawsuit states. It alleges a third employee whom Pugh confronted informed her she couldnt open a merchant account or deposit the check.

I was frustrated, I was upset, I had been accused to be a thief, Pugh told The Post.

Pugh refused to leave without her check, and after an unspecified time period, the employees returned it to her.

Loyd, the Fifth Third spokesman, said among the bankers was wanting to verify the talk with the casino within its fraud-prevention procedures. He said the lender includes a record of the telephone call.

Nevertheless, Pugh visited her very own bank to deposit her check, also it cleared the very next day without issue, she said.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Deborah Gordon, Pughs lawyer, said that what happened to Pugh was an incident of banking while black.

That is just extremely disheartening, Gordon told the paper. Its really unfortunate these stereotypes persist right here inside our metro area.

An identical incident was alleged in Livonia in January 2020 whenever a Black man tried to deposit checks at a TCF Bank, The Post reported. The person alleged that employees refused to deposit his check, citing possible fraud, and called the authorities.

For somebody who was raised in Alabama through the Jim Crow era, Pugh said her very own incident cut back painful memories.

I felt like I was humiliated, she said.

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