NEW YORK – After a nine-month investigation, Barneys New York has agreed to pay $525,000 and institute a host of reforms to settle accusations that it singled out minority shoppers for heightened surveillance at its store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.
The investigation, led by state Attorney General, Eric T. Schneiderman, showed a “disproportionate number of African-American and Latino customers being detained for alleged shoplifting or credit card fraud.”
“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 continue our work to ensure there’s one set of rules for everyone in public accommodations.”
The investigation was triggered by complaints from two black patrons of the store: Trayon Christian, 19, and Kayla Phillips, 21.
Christian, in a lawsuit filed against both the city and the store in State Supreme Court, said he had purchased a Salvatore Ferragamo belt with his Chase debit card, only to be chased down and accused of stealing the item.
He was stopped several blocks from the store on Fifth Avenue by plainclothes officers who questioned his ability to pay for the $350 belt. The officers also said the debit card must have been a fake, according to the suit. Christian was handcuffed and taken to the 19th Precinct station house where he was held, according to the lawsuit, for about two hours before being freed.
Phillips described being “stopped, frisked, searched and detained” by the police at Barneys after she bought a handbag valued at more than $2,000.
After the allegations against Barneys were made public last year, complaints that other stores had engaged in similar practices quickly surfaced.
In response, some retailers took the step of posting a Customers’ Bill of Rights in their stores.
“Profiling is an unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated,” reads the document, which was posted in stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. “Employees who violate the company’s prohibition on profiling will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.” In its agreement with the state, Barneys pledged to hire an “independent anti-profiling consultant with expertise in the prevention of racial profiling in loss prevention and asset protection.”
The store also vowed to improve its record-keeping, limit access to its surveillance videos and reform how it detains suspected shoplifters.