Big win turned sour

What would you do if a bank refused to let you deposit a check? For 71-year-old Lizzie Pugh, her experience in April trying to do that exact thing was frustrating, embarrassing, and drudged up awful memories of discrimination from her childhood. Now, she is suing the bank for how she was treated.

Pugh, who is Black, had a fantastic day on a church outing to Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, where she won $12,000 playing slots. According to CNN, which has reviewed the court documents, she went to Fifth Third Bank in Livonia, Michigan (metropolitan Detroit) to open a savings account and deposit the money.

In the complaint, Pugh alleges that three different White employees told her that the check bearing the Soaring Eagle logo was “fraudulent” and refused to let her deposit it. On top of that, they would not give her back the check. Pugh told the first two employees to call 911 because she was not about to leave without her money.

The third employee told her because the check was, according to them, fake, they would not let her open an account. Fortunately, they did eventually let her keep the check.

“What happened to Ms. Pugh is yet another example of the hurdles and indignities facing Black Americans as they try to get through the day,” Pugh’s attorney, Deborah Gordon, told CNN. “It is not only young Black men who are profiled. Fortunately, Michigan has a strong statute prohibiting discrimination in ‘public accommodations,’ including banks.”

Pugh was able to deposit the check at another bank. “I had this check, and I didn’t want it on me now,” she said.

Bank denies allegations

In response filed with the court this week, Fifth Third Financial Corporation, denied any allegations of discrimination, and interestingly, also denied that the employees determined that the check was “fraudulent.”

“We are committed to fair and responsible banking and prohibit discrimination of any kind,” the a spokesperson for the bank said. “From our review of the claims, we believe the facts to be different than what is alleged. Our employees are trained to help every customer with their banking needs, and our employees follow procedures to facilitate the opening of any new account.”

Pugh’s niece, Yolanda McGee, gave some additional background to CNN.

“She is afraid to go in any bank or any type of business,” McGee explained. “She had some events in her life from living back in Alabama as a young girl where she’s been discriminated against, and you know it’s heavy on her heart.”

It will be interesting to find out what the bank has to say about the situation as the case develops. It is hard to imagine a legitimate reason for saying the check was “fraudulent,” since it clearly was not. Even if there was some question as to the validity of the check (perhaps the bank had seen fake casino checks before), it seems like it would be easy enough to call the casino to ask, rather than put Ms. Pugh through a stressful experience that ruined the excitement of her big win.

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