Macy’s agreed to pay $650,000 on Wednesday to settle charges of racial profiling at its flagship Manhattan department store.
New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman had been investigating more than a dozen complaints of profiling and false detentions of minority customers at the retailer’s Herald Square flagship store. The agreement is the second Schneiderman has reached with a major New York retailer in as many weeks. Earlier this month Barneys paid $525,000 to settle similar allegations.
“It is absolutely unacceptable – and it’s illegal – for anyone in New York to be treated like a criminal simply because of the color of their skin,” Schneiderman said. “Recent allegations of racial profiling at some of New York’s most famous stores stand as a stark reminder that the protections afforded by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are still needed today – and that equal justice under law remains an American ideal we are striving to attain.
“This agreement will help ensure that no one is unfairly singled out as a suspected criminal when they shop in New York and that all New Yorkers enjoy full and equal access to our retail establishments.”
Schneiderman’s office launched the investigation into Macy’s in February 2013 following complaints from close to two dozen African American, Latino and other customers who are members of ethnic minority groups all of whom claimed that they had been apprehended and detained at Macy’s, despite not having stolen or having attempted to steal any Macy’s merchandise.
The consumers alleged they were racially profiled and that staff at the Manhattan store falsely accused minorities of committing crimes at a far greater rate than they accused white customers. Consumers also charged that Macy’s was engaging in improper apprehensions and detentions.
Among the charges investigated by Schneiderman were claims that minority customers carrying goods between floors by escalator were wrongly stopped by loss prevention staff, customers with limited English proficiency who were suspected of shoplifting or credit card fraud were not permitted to make phone calls, denied access to an interpreter, and were required to sign trespass notices even though they could not understand the notices.
Former Macy’s sales representatives for the Herald Square department store told the attorney’s office that loss prevention employees tracked and followed African American, Latino, and other minority customers much more frequently than white customers. A review of data produced by Macy’s by the attorney’s office found that Macy’s investigated and detained minorities for allegedly shoplifting at significantly higher rates than whites.
The fine follows the high-profile case of Rob Brown, who has appeared in The Dark Knight Rises and HBO series Treme. Brown, an African American, sued Macy’s last year after he was detained for nearly an hour by police about possible credit card fraud. He settled the suit earlier this year.
This is the second time that Macy’s has settled charges of alleged racial discrimination. In January 2005 the retailer paid $600,000 to settle a complaint that its New York department stores engaged in racial profiling and had unlawfully handcuffed customers detained on suspicion of shoplifting.
Macy’s also agreed to appoint an independent expert on anti-discrimination laws and prevention of racial profiling, who will report to the attorney general’s office for three years. It will also post a customers’ bill of rights, in English and Spanish, in a prominent location, and has committed to other anti-profiling policies and training procedures.
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