NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Barneys New York department store, accused of racially profiling shoppers, said Thursday it has retained a civil rights expert to lead a review of its policies and procedures and has reached out to community leaders to start a dialogue.
Two black shoppers said they were questioned by police after they made expensive purchases at the Manhattan store. One has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Barneys, the city and its police department; the other has filed a complaint with the city’s police watchdog agency.
The president of the Brooklyn chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Kirsten John Foy, and the CEO of Barneys, Mark Lee, spoke Thursday and planned to meet next week, Sharpton’s spokeswoman Rachel Nordlinger said. The civil rights group said earlier it would picket the store if the pattern of racial profiling alleged by the shoppers doesn’t stop.
Lee offered his “sincere regret and deepest apologies.”
“We are conducting a thorough review of our practices and procedures as they relate to these matters to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality,” he said in a statement.
The store has retained San Francisco attorney Michael Yaki, who serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to lead the review.
Foy said before meeting with Lee that that National Action Network plans other action against the NYPD for what it calls “continued use of the discriminatory pattern and practice against people of color.”
“This is unacceptable in the year 2013 that a person cannot go into a store and make a purchase without being stopped merely because they are black,” Foy told 1010 WINS.
The profiling claims also incited criticism on Twitter and an online petition asking rapper Jay-Z, who’s collaborating with the luxury retailer for a holiday collection, to disassociate from it. An email to his representative seeking comment was unanswered.
Barneys shopper Trayon Christian, 19, on Monday filed a lawsuit saying he was detained solely because he’s a young black man.
According to the lawsuit, Christian, of Queens, went to Barneys on April 29 and bought a $350 Ferragamo belt. After leaving, he said, he was accosted by undercover New York Police Department officers, who said someone at the store had raised concerns over the sale. The lawsuit said he showed the officers the receipt, the debit card he used and identification but was told the identification was false and “he could not afford to make such an expensive purchase.”
“They remove him from the sidewalk and basically move him to the side of a building where they say they’re going to call up Chase and one of the officers, I understand, asks him ‘how can you afford such a belt?’” Michael Palillo, Christian’s attorney, told 1010 WINS.
“He was profiled, he was racially profiled. I truly feel that if he wasn’t a young black man, this never would have happened.”
The lawsuit said he was held in a cell for more than two hours before being released with no charges filed. It said the incident was due to “discrimination based on plaintiff’s race and age.”
The NYPD said it has gotten 57 grand larceny complaints this year from Barneys for credit card-related fraud. Police said they’ve made 11 credit card-related arrests and more than 50 larceny arrests at the Madison Avenue store.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it’s standard practice for Barneys and other retailers to call police after crimes are committed in stores. He wouldn’t comment specifically about the two cases under investigation but said no detectives were stationed in or near Barneys.
The second shopper, who heard about the lawsuit, came forward Wednesday to say she had a similar experience after buying a $2,500 Celine handbag in February.
Kayla Phillips, 21, told the New York Daily News and the New York Post she was surrounded by police officers after leaving the store. She said they demanded to know why she used a debit card without a name on it.
Phillips, of Brooklyn, explained 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.
The city’s Law Department said it was waiting for a copy of Christian’s lawsuit and would review it.
In a statement, Barneys denied that it was involved in any detention, saying “that after carefully reviewing the incident of last April, it is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale.”
“Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights,” the statement said.
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