She thought the days of Jim Crow and being the only Black kid in school in 1960s Alabama were behind her until she got a fat check in her hand.

A retired Detroit public schools teacher won a five-figure slot machine prize at a casino and went to the bank to deposit it.

Three white bank employees told her the check was fake and refused to give it back to her.

In a recent interview, Pugh said that he couldn't believe that they had done that to him. I was really sad. I wanted to know how you knew the check was fake. They said it was fraudulent. I was scared.

When she talks about that April day, she gets emotional, but now she has a federal lawsuit that she hopes will shed light on what she says was blatant racism by employees at Fifth Third Bank.

Lizzy Pugh, a 77-year-old Detroit Public Schools retiree, starts crying after recalling the memory of the bank refusing to deposit her casino winnings as she sits on the porch of her niece's home in West Bloomfield on Sept. 1, 2022.
Lizzy Pugh, a 77-year-old Detroit Public Schools retiree, starts crying after recalling the memory of the bank refusing to deposit her casino winnings as she sits on the porch of her niece's home in West Bloomfield on Sept. 1, 2022.

She got her check back after she drove to a nearby Chase bank and deposited it there.

It was nerve-racking to think that police might come and run at me. Do you think someone would accuse you of stealing? My age is 71 years old. I don't understand why I would steal a check and attempt to cash it. I didn't believe anyone would do that.

The Free Press tried to get a response from Fifth Third Bank.

Employee No. 1: This check is 'fraudulent'

According to the lawsuit, the Alabama native and church deacon who worked for the Detroit public schools for 36 years was in federal court because of this.

The end of the dream is depicted on the billboards.

Students got banned books thanks to this teacher. The official wants her license taken away.

A group of people from her church went to a casino and resort. She paid the taxes on her winnings at the casino and got the rest of her prize money in a check.

The lawsuit doesn't say how much the check is.

She went to the Fifth Third branch to deposit her winnings after the casino outing. After waiting several minutes, a bank employee called Pugh into her office, where she explained her intentions to open an account and give the employee her winnings check.

The employee asked the woman where she worked.

She said that the check was for money she had won at the casino. The casino's logo and address were included in the check, along with the same home address listed on her driver's license.

"SLOT JACK POT" was written on the memo line.

She walked away from the room. She came back and said that the check was fake and she couldn't give it back to me. I'm not sure why. It's not a scam.

A second bank employee was summoned by the employee.

'I told them I wasn't leaving'

The second employee proved to be problematic. She refused to return the check because she thought it was fraudulent.

Her nerves were rattling and she was angry. Her son told her to call the casino. She told him that she wouldn't leave without the check.

She said the same thing to the bank employees.

I told them I was sticking around. The police need to be contacted. I will call myself better yet.

Two bank employees refused to call for help and summoned another.

Employee No. 3: You can't have your check back

Two bank employees took the check from the third bank worker. After a while, Pugh went to the employee's office and asked for her check back.

She was told again that Fifth Third Bank wouldn't allow her to deposit the check because it was bad.

The person persisted. Without the check, she wouldn't leave. The bank returned it to her. The check cleared the next day after she deposited it.

The first few moments back in her car were nerve-racking. I had to take a break. A picture of the bank was taken by me. I didn't know what the address was or what it was called. And then I walked away.

'Let's fight this'

The woman who persuaded her to file a lawsuit was the niece of the man. Initially, he was against taking legal action because he didn't think anything would change.

Her niece wanted to know what happened. After the bank incident, her aunt cried on the phone with her, asking how a blessing could turn into something so bad.

She was told that this was a violation of her civil rights. You can fight in these laws. She told her aunt to fight this. Fifth Third Bank needs to be aware of what they did to you. They did something that was not right. They need to respond to this.

Her aunt was afraid. She had been frightened by the incident. She was afraid that something bad would happen after the encounter at the bank. There were bad memories to deal with. Nothing was done after Pugh experienced racism. People were able to get away with terrible things before. What had happened now?

He wouldn't allow it to go.

I supported her. We aren't in 1950s Alabama. We aren't in the Jim Crow era. They are going to fight. "No one is going to shame you, Deborah Gordon," said McGee, who helped her aunt find a lawyer.

Gordon dealt with a case like that in 2020. A black man won an employment discrimination lawsuit but the bank wouldn't cash his check. The bank apologized and settled the case quietly.

The incidents were described by Gordon as "Banking while Black".

Gordon said that it was a sad situation. She has lived through a lot and should be able to have a happy moment.

Gordon has seen it a number of times.

Gordon said it was extremely disappointing. These stereotypes still exist in our metro area.

Old wounds open up

The backdrop of the Jim Crow era meant that children like Pugh were forced to live in fear and humiliation while growing up.

The young man moved to Detroit at the age of twenty. She worked for the Detroit public schools for 36 years and held many jobs, including library clerk, shipping and receiving, supervisor and storekeeper. She retired in 2009.

She cannot talk about her childhood without getting emotional.

Her niece told her not to cry, as she recalled her first encounters with racism.

She said she was 12 years old. I bought some candy.

The tears came as soon as they did. The store clerk's husband reprimanded Pugh for not addressing his wife.

He leaped over me. She said that he said "Yes, ma'am, no, ma'am."

The fear of going to school came first. One of the first desegregated schools in Alabama was where she and her siblings attended. She remembers the first day of school being rough on her and her siblings. The students started beating on her table when her chair was pushed against a wall.

"I was never taught to be racist," he stated. I didn't use it at all.

The visit to the bank brought back painful memories.

Contact Tresa Baldas at tbaldas@free

A black woman files a lawsuit after her bank wouldn't give her a casino check.