In April, a retired Detroit public school teacher won the jackpot at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. What would be an exciting time for most turned into an unfortunate case of racial discrimination against the winner. Now the winner is pursuing litigation against the bank.
The event took place back in April of this year. Lizzie Pugh was visiting the Soaring Eagle Casino with her church group when she won the jackpot on one of Eagle’s slot machines. Pugh’s attorney reported the $20,000 won at the casino resulted in Pugh taking home about $12,000 after taxes. Pugh opted to pay taxes at the casino and receive the majority of her winnings via a check.
A trip to the bank gone wrong
Pugh proceeded to take her winnings to a local Fifth Third Bank, where she had planned to open an account to deposit the winnings. Upon arriving, Pugh, a black senior, tried to receive her winnings with the help of one of the bank tellers.
According to the lawsuit filed with U.S District Court for Eastern Michigan, the bank tellers were clearly racist with how they handled the situation and refused to cash the check, stating it was fraudulent. After the first teller refused to cash the check, she requested the help of a second employee. The second employee also claimed the check was fraudulent even though it clearly had the casino’s logo, address, Pugh’s name, and address as reflected on her ID, according to the Atlanta Black Star. The three employees were white females.
There’s more . . .
After the first two tellers refused to cash the check, a third employee joined and refused to give the check back to Pugh. Pugh stayed until the bank gave her the check back. According to the Detroit Free Press, Pugh stated, “To think that maybe they would have police coming and running at me — it was humiliating and stressful. 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.”
Pugh then refused to leave without the check. The three female bank tellers eventually decided to give Pugh back the check.
Pugh, understandable stunned, just sat in the parking lot for a minute, absorbing what happened. She then took the check down the road to a local Chase bank and cashed the check without any problems.
The New York Times says racial profiling when banking is more common than you think. According to the article, black customers are at a higher risk of being racially profiled when trying to complete a simple transaction, like cashing a check. The article’s heading states, “Under federal laws, there is little recourse as long as the banks ultimately complete their transactions.” The article went on to state, “Something as simple as trying to cash a check or open a bank account can lead to suspicious employees summoning the police, causing anxiety and fear — and sometimes even physical danger — for the accused customers.”
Pugh’s niece encouraged her aunt to stand up and insisted she file a lawsuit.
Pugh has hired attorney Deborah Gordon to represent her in the case. Pugh is requesting a trial by jury. Hon. Sean F. Cox will be the presiding judge on Pugh’s case.
“What happened to Lizzie was really a heartbreaking situation,” stated Gordon. “Given what she has lived through — and to have a happy moment, something she enjoyed, be ruined by being humiliated?”
Pugh grew up in Alabama during the Jim Crow era. She attended a school where she was reportedly bullied for being the only Black child in school. Pugh moved to Detroit later in her life where she was a public school teacher for over 30 years.
Fifth Third Bank provided a statement about the encounter. “At Fifth Third, we are committed to fair and responsible banking and prohibit discrimination of any kind. Our employees are trained to help every person with their banking needs — customer or non-customer — while minimizing potential fraud risk. From our review of the claims, we believe our employees’ actions have been misinterpreted. That said, we regret Ms. Pugh has come away feeling mistreated after her interactions at our branch, as our employees’ actions were consistent with our process and the dual goals of serving our customers while also preventing potential frauds that can victimize both the bank and our customers.”
Mac Daniel is a South Carolina-based freelance writer for PlayOnlineCasino and PlayOnlineSportsBetting. He has experience writing about a wide variety of topics, including healthcare, tourism, non-profit organizations, and most recently casino and sportsbetting news. To check out more of his work, visit: