NEW YORK – Barneys and Macy’s, two of the country’s top upscale department stores, are facing lawsuits over alleged racial profiling.
Employees of a third store, Bergdorf Goodman, are accused of being hostile to blacks.Trayon Christian, 19, ofQueens, filed a lawsuit against Barneys New York in Manhattan over his purchase on April 29 of a $349 Ferragamo belt.
Kayla Phillips, 21, of Brooklyn, told the New York Daily News and the New York Post that she was surrounded by police after leaving Barneys following her purchase of a $2,500 designer handbag at the store in February.
According to Christian’s lawsuit, filed Monday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan against the store, the New York police department and the city of New York, he showed the receipt from the purchase, the debit card he used to make it and identification to the officers but was told the identification was false and “that he could not afford to make such an expensive purchase.”
The lawsuit said he was detained at a precinct in a cell for more than two hours before being released with no charges filed against him. It said the incident was due to “discrimination based on plaintiff’s race and age as he was a young black American male.”
Phillips heard about the lawsuit and came forward to say she had a similar experience after her purchase. She said that police surrounded her after she left the store and demanded to know why she used a debit card without a name on it, she said.
Phillips said she explained that it was a temporary card and, after showing police identification and a new debit card that had arrived in the mail that morning, they let her go.
In a separate incident, Robert Brown, an actor on the HBO drama series Treme said he was stopped because of his race while shopping at a New York City Macy’s department store.
Brown has filed a lawsuit against Macy’s saying police stopped him at the Macy’s Herald Square store after employees contacted authorities about possible credit card fraud.
The lawsuit says it was over sunglasses but Brown said at a news conference it was over a $1,300 watch bought for his mother.
He says he was handcuffed and searched before being released. He says he was targeted because he’s black.Civil rights activist Al Sharpton held a rally Saturday to protest the alleged profiling and some of those who attended said they too had been profiled in other stores. They included Shane Lee, 51, who said he went to Bergdorf Goodman to buy shirts last year and the sales staff would not assist him.
“Instead of helping me, they were staring at me,” said Lee. “I felt so uncomfortable that I just left.”A Bergdorf Goodman official did not return a call seeking comment Saturday.
Sharpton and other community leaders met Tuesday with Barneys CEO Mark Lee at Sharpton’s National Action Network office in Harlem to discuss the allegations of racial profiling.
Lee said Barney’s own initial investigation showed no employees were involved in the two incidents but that the retailer wanted to be part of the solution to racial profiling in stores.
“We offer our deepest sympathies” to the two alleged profiling victims, said Lee, adding that the retailer “has a policy of zero tolerance for discrimination in any form.”
Macy’s said Sunday no employees were involved in the detention or questioning of Brown.In a statement, Macy’s said there was no record of any employee contacting authorities about Brown’s purchase. The store said police officers requested use of a room in the building and that request was granted.
The store said it was reaching out to Brown, and continuing to investigate the situation.The NYPD said any officers’ role is under internal review. The city’s law department said it was waiting for a formal copy of the lawsuit, and would review the claim once it had been received.
The New York Attorney General’s Office has sent letters to executives at Barneys New York and Macy’s East, citing allegations the stores profile customers based on race and national origin and stating that was prohibited under state and local civil rights law.
Sharpton said he wants to convene a meeting of CEOs of various major retailers and the New York Police Department on profiling.
The Barneys controversy has snared entertainment mogul Jay-Z, who has a collaboration with the luxury store and has come under pressure to sever those ties.
An online petition and Twitter messages from fans calls on the rap superstar to bow out of his upcoming partnership with Barneys for the holiday season which will see the store selling items by top designers, inspired by Jay-Z, with some of the proceeds going to his charity. He is also working with the store to create its artistic holiday window display.
Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, defended himself on his website saying that he hadn’t immediately responded because he was still trying to figure out exactly what happened.
“I move and speak based on facts and not emotion,” his statement said. “I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys. Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?” he said, referring to local newspaper headlines.
Jay-Z said he understood what it felt like to be racially profiled but also didn’t want to jump to unfair conclusions.
“I am against discrimination of any kind but if I make snap judgments, no matter who it’s towards, aren’t I committing the same sin as someone who profiles?” he asked. “I am no stranger to being profiled and I truly empathize with anyone that has been put in that position. Hopefully this brings forth a dialogue to effect real change.”
This story was written based on reports from The Associated Press.