Barneys New York has agreed to pay $525,000 in fees and penalties following a nine-month investigation by the New York state attorney general into racial profiling at the luxury department store.
Investigators reviewed a series of complaints from Barneys customers and former employees, who claimed that door guards would exclusively single out minority customers and that in-store detectives would follow these customers as they walked around. Some salespeople tried not to work with minority shoppers to avoid the hassle of being roped into investigations about them, the complaints alleged.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office found that a "disproportionate number" of black and Latino customers had been detained at Barneys on suspicion of shoplifting or credit card fraud. It concluded that Barneys lacked the proper "comprehensive written policies" to curb racial profiling.
"Profiling and racial discrimination remain a problem in our state, but not one we are willing to accept," Schneiderman said in a statement. "This agreement will correct a number of wrongs, both by fixing past policies and monitoring the actions of Barneys and its employee to make sure that past mistakes are not repeated."
Schneiderman began probing Barneys after two black customers filed lawsuits against the company in 2013, alleging racial discrimination. College student Trayon Christian sued Barneys after he was falsely accused of stealing a $359 Ferragamo belt. Then Kayla Phillips, a nursing student, came forward with another lawsuit accusing Barneys of racially profiling her after she bought a $2,500 Céline bag. Both incidents occurred at Barneys' Madison Avenue flagship store in New York City.
Barneys chief executive Mark Lee said in a statement that his company is "pleased" to have reached this agreement with the attorney general's office.
"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," said Lee.
As a result of the agreement, Barneys will retain an independent anti-profiling consultant, put in place new anti-profiling policies and add anti-profiling training for security and sales workers. It will also have new recordkeeping requirements for its security team regarding "investigations, detentions and false stops."
Allegations against Barneys prompted a wave of outrage last year, as demonstrators took to the streets to protest "shop and frisk" at the Madison Avenue location. The controversy even ensnared rapper Jay-Z, who was releasing a limited-edition collection in collaboration with the store around the same time.
In interviews with The Huffington Post in 2013, Barneys insiders described instances of outright racism on the sales floor of the Madison Avenue store.
One former sales associate, who is black and worked at the store in 2012 and 2013, said white employees would routinely profile black customers. She spoke to HuffPost on condition she not be named for fear of jeopardizing her future in the industry.
"If a black person comes in with a sweatshirt or sneakers, some of the white sales associates would be on the floor saying: 'Why are they even here? They're probably going to scam," she told HuffPost. "They would say this stuff in front of me. Sometimes I would just walk away, and sometimes I would say, 'You never know.'"
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