Macy’s To Pay $650K Settlement Over Racial Profiling

The New York Attorney General’s office announced this week it has found “loss prevention officers” at Macy’s department store to have followed Black and Latino customers more often than white patrons. In response to these findings, Macy’s has agreed to a pay a $650,000 settlement, hire an independent monitor, and release an anti-racial profiling memorandum to employees, among other responses. (It is perhaps too soon to say “reforms.”)

This fall, both Macy’s at Herald Square and the upscale department store Barney’s in New York City drew attention after several Black customers were detained by police and accused of stealing items which they had rightfully purchased. Macy’s most high-profile incident was actor Robert Brown from the TV show “Treme” and the movie “Finding Forrester,” who was detained after making an expensive purchase at the store, then frisked, accused of holding fake ID, and told he didn’t have enough money to buy the pricey item.

The AG’s investigation reviewed a total of 18 cases of minorities being detained, dating back to 2007. The New York City blog Gothamist quoted from a press release following the Macy’s investigation and the findings were unsettling:

The complaints alleged, among other things, that minority customers were wrongly stopped and detained by loss prevention employees of the store after traveling between floors by escalator with unconcealed merchandise, despite having no intention of shoplifting, and that customers with limited English proficiency suspected of shoplifting or credit card fraud were not permitted to make phone calls, were denied access to an interpreter, and were required to sign trespass notices even though they could not understand the notices in English.

In addition to reviewing complaints by customers, the Attorney General’s Office met with former Macy’s sales representatives for the Herald Square department store who alleged that loss prevention employees at the store tracked and followed African -American, Latino, and other minority customers much more frequently than white customers. Finally, the Attorney General’s review of data produced by Macy’s showed that Macy’s investigated and detained minorities for allegedly shoplifting at significantly higher rates than whites.

As The New York Times explains, the investigation learned some of the earliest detainments occurred when Macy’s was already under scrutiny for racial discrimination by AG’s office due to accusations made against them in 2005. An agreement with the state AG from 2005 to to 2008 had meant to address racist accusations, like racial profiling and handcuffing detainees.

Only a week ago, Barney’s admitted to racially profiling customers after undergoing a similar investigation by the AG’s office. The Barney’s investigation found that new management in loss prevention had encouraged to strengthen a crackdown on shoplifting and credit card fraud, which translated to a disproportionate increase in racist detainments and accusations against Black and Hispanic customers. In response, Barney’s said it would develop an anti-racial profiling policy and announced it is hiring a “racial profiling consultant.”

Macy’s new independent monitor will report to authorities about the store’s progress for the next three years. But given its long history of racial profiling customers — including when its supposedly already been told to take steps to address racial profiling — I’m not optimistic about a sincere commitment to its new list of reforms. It may be time to take our shopping somewhere else.

[New York Times]
[New York Business Journal]

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