New York Barneys settles minorities shoppers' 'profiling' claims

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 9:18pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 10:22pm


US department store Barneys will pay US$525,000 to resolve claims people from ethnic minorities were singled out as suspected shoplifters at its New York store.

Barneys shoppers and ex-employees complained that detectives followed ethnic minority customers, even after staff identified them as frequent patrons, and disproportionately investigated their credit-card use, so much so that some sales staff avoided serving minority shoppers to avoid getting calls from store investigators, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in announcing the settlement.

Besides the US$525,000 in fines and expenses, Barneys will employ an "anti-profiling consultant" for two years, update its policy and record-keeping on detaining customers suspected of theft, and improve training of security and sales personnel.

"This agreement will correct a number of wrongs, both by fixing past policies and by monitoring the actions of Barneys and its employees to make sure that past mistakes are not repeated," Schneiderman said.

Schneiderman's investigation came after Barneys' shoppers Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips complained of being detained in separate incidents after making expensive purchases at the Madison Avenue emporium. Both sued the store and city.

Phillips, in a statement released by her lawyer, Kareem Vessup, said: "I feel very vindicated today ... Finally, Barneys appears to have conceded that they unreasonably followed, stopped and detained people who look just like me in their stores."

Phillips, who is black, came forward late last year to say she was surrounded by police upon leaving the store after buying a US$2,500 handbag in February with a temporary debit card. Police ultimately let her go.

Christian's lawyer noted that a review last year, commissioned by Barneys, had found that the store did not have a written or unwritten profiling policy.

"We are pleased that Barneys has taken responsibility," said Christian's lawyer, Michael Palillo. "We are hopeful that this offensive and discriminatory conduct will finally come to an end."

Barneys chief executive Mark Lee said that the company was pleased with the settlement.

Civil rights activist the Reverend Al Sharpton met Lee to discuss the issue and the furore spurred an online petition asking rapper Jay-Z, who was collaborating with a Barneys' holiday collection, to disassociate from it.

He ultimately decided to continue the project, which raised money for his charity, under the condition that he helped lead the store's review of its policies.