Macy's to pay $650K, latest retailer to settle over racial profiling

Macy's will pay $650,000 to settle allegations that it racially profiled customers at its store in New York City. Macy's joins Barneys, another New York department store that has paid a big settlement for racial profiling in recent weeks.

Stephan Savoia/AP/File
shoppers enter and leave a Macy's department store in Braintree, Mass on April 29. Macy's will pay $650,000 to settle allegations of racial profiling customers.

Macy’s will pay $650,000 to settle allegations of racially profiling customers at its Herald Square store in Manhattan, making it the second New York department store to settle racial profiling allegations this month.  

Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan faced more than a dozen complaints from African-American and Latino customers claiming that Macy’s "lost prevention unit" detained them even though they hadn’t stolen or attempted to steal anything. Complainants also accused store officials of falsely accusing minorities of shoplifting more than white customers.

“It is absolutely unacceptable – and it’s illegal – for anyone in New York to be treated like a criminal simply because of the color of their skin,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement Wednesday. “This agreement will help ensure that no one is unfairly singled out as a suspected criminal when they shop in New York and that all New Yorkers enjoy full and equal access to our retail establishments.”

The Civil Rights Bureau of the New York attorney general’s office began investigating Macy’s in February 2013 after receiving several complaints. Among the allegations: Customers with limited English proficiency said they were stopped for suspected shoplifting and credit card fraud, but they were denied access to an interpreter and were required to sign trespass notices though they weren’t able to understand the document, according to the Attorney General’s Office. 

In October 2013, Robert Brown, a 29-year-old black actor, filed suit against Macy's, saying he was unfairly detained. Mr. Brown said he purchased a $1,300 Movado watch for his mother to celebrate her graduation from college. After the purchase, he alleged, security officers approached him and insisted that he could not afford such an item, holding him in a Macy’s cell for one hour. He settled with Macy's in July for an undisclosed sum.

This isn't the first time Macy's has faced allegations of racial profiling. In 2005, then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer found that security employees at 29 Macy's stores engaged in racial profiling. Macy's settled the allegations for $600,000. 

Barneys of New York agreed on Aug. 11 to pay $525,000 to settle racial profiling allegations at its stores. The attorney general began an investigation into the upscale department store after two African-American customers alleged that they were falsely accused of credit card fraud. During the investigation, authorities found that Barneys disproportionately stopped African-Americans and Latino customers.

Under the terms of its settlement, Macy’s must designate an independent expert on anti-discrimination laws who will report to the attorney general. The company must train employees on best ways to treat detainees and investigate customer complaints of racial profiling. 

In December, Barneys and Macy’s adopted a so-called Customers’ Bill of Rights, which strictly prohibits racial profiling or discrimination of any kind. 

In a statement, Macy’s said the company policy strictly prohibits any form of discrimination or racial profiling. “We at Macy’s are committed to fulfilling to the ideals of diversity, inclusion and respect that our company aspires to achieve – every day, in every store and office, with every customer and associate,” Macy’s said. “Serving customers is what we are all about, and we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all customers feel welcome at Macy’s and are treated with respect.”

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