When 71-year-old Lizzie Pugh won a five-figure prize on the slot machines on a church day out, she thought her ship had finally come in.
But what was a financial win soon ended in years, with the retired educator taking the Fifth Third Bank to court after tellers refused to cash the cheque or give it back.
According to Pugh, they were blatantly racist and claimed the winnings from Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort were fraudulent.
Pugh attended the bank in Livonia, Michigan, on April 11 and was quizzed by the white teller on where she worked. They also asked to see her driver's licence.
The bank employee then claimed the cheque was a fake and refused to give it back.
"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 employee fetched another colleague, and then a third, who all refused to give it back.
Employees at one point threatened to call the police on Pugh during the incident as she repeatedly asked for her cheque back.
"To think that maybe they would have police coming and running at me — it was humiliating and stressful," Pugh said, as per the Detroit Free Press.
"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."
After significant persistence, they gave up the cheque which was later deposited at another bank.
It cleared the following day, according to court papers from the August 29 lawsuit, seen by the Detroit Free Press.
According to a statement issued to the Detroit Free Press, Fifth Third Bank has a different story.
"At Fifth Third we are committed to fair and responsible banking, and prohibit discrimination of any kind. From our review of the claims, we believe the facts to be different than what is alleged," a bank spokesperson said.
"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 convinced her to file a lawsuit after the incident.
"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 said, as per Black Enterprise.
Pugh was hesitant but McGee insisted and found lawyer Deborah Gordon, who has dealt with similar cases before.
In 2020, Gordon represented a black man who had won an employment discrimination lawsuit, but another bank in Livonia wouldn't cash his cheque.
The lawyer described these occurrences as 'banking while black'.
"What happened to Lizzie was really a heartbreaking situation," she said, as per the Detroit Free Press. "Given what she has lived through — and to have a happy moment, something she enjoyed, be ruined by being humiliated?"
Featured Image Credit: Anan Kaewkhammul / Alamy. Eric Glenn / Alamy.