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Lowe’s executive’s comments about ‘Hispanic pros with smaller hands’ spark employee outrage

Joe McFarland, Lowe’s executive vice president of stores, said of a DeWalt drill, “Some of our Hispanic pros with smaller hands, this is perfect for them.” (Video: Obtained by The Washington Post)

In a corporate video broadcast to store managers nationwide on Monday, Joe McFarland, Lowe’s executive vice president of stores, pronounced the $99 DeWalt 12-volt cordless drill the “number one power tool for the pros.”

McFarland, wearing a camouflage vest and seated in front of a sign that said “Lowe’s LoweDown,” went on to tout the features of this week’s spotlight item: “The thing is compact. It fits anywhere.”

And a customer profile: “Some of our Hispanic pros with smaller hands, this is perfect for them.”

McFarland’s comments, made during a prerecorded presentation that ran about a half-hour, were broadcast in Lowe’s conference rooms throughout the country as part of a weekly gathering of managers to discuss corporate priorities, according to employees who saw the presentation. As part of the meetings, they watch videos often hosted by McFarland.

“Everybody in the room was just like, ‘What? Did he just say that?’ ” said an assistant manager in the Pacific Northwest who watched the video Monday afternoon with more than a half-dozen managers and supervisors at his store. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal.

“Immediately after it happened, everyone was just like, ‘Whoa, why would he say that?’ ” he said.

Employees from around the country began airing their concerns about the video in online forums. Another employee said the video episodes normally play all week on the company’s internal website but this one has been removed. A clip of it was obtained by The Washington Post.

Lowe’s, based in North Carolina and the second-largest hardware chain in the country, issued an apology from McFarland after The Post published its story Tuesday.

“I am sorry for a careless and ignorant comment I made during an associate broadcast yesterday,” McFarland said. “Our associates shared how my statement was harmful and inappropriate. This is a key reflection moment for me.”

McFarland said he takes “full responsibility” for his comment and said he would be spending the coming days and weeks with Lowe’s associates, customers and business leaders to try to “learn and grow from this moment.”

Another employee based in the Northeast who watched the video with the management team called McFarland’s videotaped comments “unacceptable and degrading."

“What has my team more upset is, it feels like our leadership has looked the other way,” the employee said. “By them not posting the video like they always do, they know it was wrong but haven’t addressed it to the employees, so it makes me feel like they are trying to sweep it under the rug.”

Lowe’s, which has more than 1,700 U.S. stores, is in the process of laying off thousands of employees, including janitors, maintenance workers and those who assemble grills and furniture. Many of those jobs, the company said, will be outsourced to third-party providers. The company last year reported $71.3 billion in annual sales and $2.3 billion in profits.

McFarland, who was previously an executive at J.C. Penney and Home Depot, began working for Lowe’s last August. He received a compensation package worth $3.74 million last year, company filings show.

Sonya Grier, an American University professor whose research focuses on race in the marketplace and targeted marketing, said it remains unclear how much — if any — market research was behind McFarland’s comments. In addition to the apology, Grier said, Lowe’s should know why these views might be present.

“They need to assess how deep their understanding is of the diverse consumer segment that makes up their actual and potential customer base so they do not further antagonize or offend,” Grier said.