Barneys will pay $525K to settle racial profiling allegations


People protest outside Barney’s flagship store, accusing the store of racial profiling, on October 30, 2013 in NewYork City. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Upscale retailer Barneys New York will pay $525,000 in penalties to settle racial profiling complaints. The settlement came after a nine-month-long investigation launched by the New York State Attorney’s office when two black customers at the flagship store on Madison Avenue said they were falsely accused of credit card fraud. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement that the 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.”

News of the investigation had broad reverberations. Protests at the store last year. Al Sharpton had a “candid” meeting with Barney’s CEO Mark Lee. Jay-Z came under heat to break ties with the company and eventually changed the parameters of his holiday promotion deal with Barneys so that all proceeds, rather than a portion, would go to his charity.

The state attorney’s office ultimately concluded that black and Latino customers were disproportionately detained for alleged shoplifting and credit card fraud even though the store didn’t keep thorough records. The investigation also found that the retailer didn’t have written policies on racial profiling, excessive use of force and handcuffs, detainee treatment, or how to make sure credit card fraud investigations were race-neutral.

Under the terms of the settlement, Barneys will not only fork over $525,00 in penalties, but also will establish anti-profiling policies, bring in an outside, anti-profiling consultant, and require thorough record-keeping of false stops and detentions. Barney’s CEO Mark Lee said in a statement that the company was “pleased” with the agreement. “We are a truly progressive company that has absolutely no tolerance for discrimination of any kind, and believe this agreement will help build on that commitment and further strengthen our organization in the years and decades to come,” he said.

Complaints from customers and former employees alleged that door guards flagged only minority customers for surveillance; detectives in the stores followed minority customers, even after other employees identified those customers as regulars; detectives disproportionately asked employees who served minority customers for copies of receipts and about credit card use to confirm purchases were legitimate; and some employees avoided helping minority customers altogether because they didn’t want to be contacted by other employees who were investigating credit card fraud.

Trayon Christian, a 19-year-old black Queens resident, filed a lawsuit against the retailer after being stopped in April 2013.  Christian alleged store employees targeted him and he was briefly detained by police after attempting to purchase a $349 belt, he told the New York Daily News. The store eventually let him buy it, but he told the Daily News,  “I brought the belt back to Barneys a few days later and returned it. I got my money back, I’m not shopping there again.”

Elahe Izadi is a general assignment national reporter for The Washington Post. She can be reached at elahe.izadi@washpost.com and on Twitter @ElaheIzadi.
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