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Portland U.S. Bank employee fired for helping a dad trying to get home for Christmas

Emily James thought she was doing the right thing, but was fired for giving Marc Eugenio $20 for gas.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Marc Eugenio had just started his new job, worked a partial pay period and had received his first paycheck. The amount was $1,080.

"I'm having a tough period right now in my life and this new job meant a lot to me. It was my first paycheck and I worked real hard to make sure I had food and gifts to make it a Merry Christmas," Eugenio said.

Eugenio deposited his check on Dec. 20 using an ATM, but days later he learned there was a hold on the funds until the money could be verified.

He says he went round and round with the bank trying to verify that the money was his to deposit. The branch manager wasn't available to unlock the hold on his paycheck. He worked with the bank issuing the paycheck, his employer and a bank manager to try and fix the situation.

"I'm away from my family, this was Christmas Eve. I'm sitting at the bank like I'm working there. Working to beg them, not work, but basically beg to have my own money released," he said.

It was almost closing time on Christmas Eve. Eugenio felt like he was getting nowhere with the bank. They told him to wait until later in the afternoon and everything should be resolved. 

It wouldn't happen.

As soon as he walked out the door to go home, feeling frustrated, the doors to the bank were closing behind him.

Sitting in his car, he saw his tank was below empty. He sat in the parking lot of a gas station hoping for a miracle from the bank, so he could get his money and buy gas, but more importantly Christmas gifts for his children.

"I was desperate," he said. "Sitting there in the gas station on Christmas Eve, away from my family and I couldn't get home."

He called the customer service line at U.S. Bank and was connected with Emily James, a rep he had worked with before and was trying one last attempt at getting his paycheck released.

"I was exasperated. I just wish I had $20 to get home." he said.

"I put him on hold and I reached out to two separate managers," James said. She said the first manager was too busy, so she went to another manager to tell them the situation.

"Look these are our options. We got to do something. I know I can't remove the hold and not get in trouble. It's Christmas Eve, let's get this guy home. Something. Let's do anything," she recalled.

James said she was given permission by her manager to leave and go meet Eugenio at the gas station to help him out.

"She goes, I'm gonna come out there and I'm gonna give you $20. I said don't do that. No, no, no," Eugenio recalled. "What luck the call center is based out of Portland, Oregon. That somebody is willing to come out and drive out on their own time when they're working to come give me that."

"I actually cried on the way back to my desk," James said. "I actually get to help affect change. Even if it's this little tiny thing, I'm making someone's life just a little bit better."

James said she drove out to the gas station, about 20 minutes away and gave him the $20, a hug and said Merry Christmas and went back to work.

Five days after Christmas she walked into work and was met by her regional manager in the front lobby.

"I knew exactly what was happening when I saw her," James said.

She was fired. Her manager that gave her permission was also fired. James said the past month has been stressful.

"I've had to rely on my parents or my local buy-nothing group. People have been bringing meals over," she said, "If I didn't have people helping me, I would be homeless. So it's been extremely stressful."

She's been interviewed over a dozen times for new jobs, but hasn't been offered a job.

U.S. Bank's CEO called her personally and issued an apology and sent KGW this statement.

"Our recent employment decision in Oregon did not reflect who we are as a company. U.S. Bank fell short of our and others’ expectations and we sincerely apologize. Our CEO Andy Cecere has personally spoken with both employees and asked them to rejoin the company. Ms. Gilbert has agreed to return to work next week as a call center supervisor. We have discussed a new position with Ms. James and she is considering it at this time. We are committed to understanding how we can learn from these events and make the right changes so they do not reoccur. We are beginning a re-evaluation immediately of our policies and how they are applied to be certain they are flexible and put the customer first, while remaining consistent with our obligation to safeguard customer assets and ensure the safety of our employees.” 

James said she's not sure how she can go back to work for the company that fired her for doing what she thought was the right thing.

Eugenio said the hold on his paycheck was removed a week later, but instead of paying for Christmas presents, he paid bills. Christmas wasn't the same this year for his family, no presents under the tree.

"You would like to remember every Christmas. This is the one you want to forget," he said.

RELATED: U.S. Bank fires Portland employee after she gives $20 of her own money to a struggling customer

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