A 71-year-old black woman from Michigan won a five-figure jackpot during a casino visit with members of her church but when she took the check to the bank to be cashed, three white bank employees not only refused to cash it, they also seized it, a lawsuit has alleged.

Retired Detroit public school employee Lizzie Pugh, who won the jackpot on a slot machine, said when she went to Fifth Third Bank in Livonia, Michigan, to deposit her winnings, the three white employees told her the check was fake and refused to hand it back to her.

“I couldn’t really believe they did that to me,” Pugh told the Detroit Free Press. “I was devastated. I kept asking, ‘How do you know the check is not real?’ … And they just insisted that it was fraudulent … I was just terrified.”

The incident occurred in April, prompting her to file a federal lawsuit on 29 August, alleging racism from the bank staffers.

She eventually got the check back later that day and deposited it at a nearby Chase bank.

“To think that maybe they would have police coming and running at me – it was humiliating and stressful,” she said. “For someone to just accuse you of stealing? I’m 71 years old. Why would I steal a check and try to cash it? I just didn’t think anybody would do that.”

According to the lawsuit, Pugh went to the casino with her church members on 9 April. After winning the jackpot, Pugh paid the taxes on her winnings at the casino before it issued a check and cash to her.

The precise amount on the check is not included in the lawsuit, the Detroit Free Press reported.

A couple of days later, Pugh drove to the Fifth Third Bank to deposit the check in a savings account she planned on opening. She was asked to step into an office where a staffer asked where she worked and to see her driver’s license. 

Pugh handed over the check to the bank employee.

“She left the room. She came back and she told me that the check was fraudulent and she could not give it back to me,” Pugh told the paper. “I’m like, ‘Why? It’s not fraudulent.’”

Another employee, who was called into the office, also claimed the check was fake and equally refused to hand it back to the owner.

“I told them I wasn’t leaving. You need to call the police. Or better yet, I’ll call myself,” Pugh said.

The two employees left and took the check into the office to show a third staffer. Pugh followed shortly and was faced with the third employee making the same claim.

She finally got the check back and took it to another bank the next day where it was cleared.

“I was really, really nervous,” she said, remembering the moment she got back in her car. “I had to sit there for a minute. I took a picture of the bank. I had no idea what the address was or anything like that. And then I left.”

It was her niece, Yolanda McGee, 50, who pushed her aunt to take legal action, Pugh said.

“I told her, ‘This clearly was a violation of your civil rights. There are laws in place now, where you can fight. Let’s fight this,’” McGee told the Detriot Free Press. “Fifth Third Bank needs to know that they humiliated you. What they did was wrong. And they need to answer for this.”

She added: “I encouraged her. I said, no, no, no, no, no. We are not in 1950s Alabama. We’re not in the Jim Crow era. We are gonna fight. No one’s gonna shame you.”

“What happened to Lizzie was really a heartbreaking situation,” Pugh’s attorney Deborah Gordon told the paper.

“Given what she has lived through – and to have a happy moment, something she enjoyed, be ruined by being humiliated?” she added. “This is just extremely disheartening. It’s really unfortunate these stereotypes continue to exist right here in our metro area.”


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