Barneys New York has been fined $525,000 by New York State Attorney General’s office as a settlement in its racial profiling lawsuit. The suit was in response to several incidences in which brown and black customers of Barneys were pursued, cuffed and detained under grounds of suspicion of credit card fraud and/or shoplifting.
After a nine month investigation, the retailer was found guilty of profiling non-white groups of customers. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman stated that a “disproportionate number of African-American and Latino customers [are] being detained for alleged shoplifting or credit card fraud.”
The investigation was instigated by complaints from two black Barneys customers.
Kayla Phillips, 21, purchased a handbag valued at more than $2,000. She was then “stopped, frisked, searched and detained” by the police in Barneys.
Trayon Christian, a black teen, was wrongfully arrested after he used his debit card to buy a $350 belt. Trayon was stopped several blocks from the store, and questioned by plainclothes officers about the legitimacy of his ability to buy the belt. Innocent of any wrongdoing, Christian was forcibly detained, handcuffed and held in the 19th Precinct station house for approximately 2 hours, before being released.
New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement, “Profiling and racial discrimination remain a problem in our state, but not one we are willing to accept.”
“This agreement will correct a number of wrongs, both by fixing past policies and by monitoring the actions of Barneys and its employees to make sure that past mistakes are not repeated,” he said.
So how will Barneys be “fixing past policies”? In addition to paying its fine, the privately owned luxury retailer has pledged to improve its record keeping, and reform how it detains suspected shoplifters. They will also hire “independent anti-profiling consultant with expertise in the prevention of racial profiling in loss prevention and asset protection.”
Of course, it sounds like Barneys plans to progress into an operation which treats all customers (yes, even the black and brown ones) with respect. As we all know, paying $525,000 when you are a multimillion dollar company definitely makes you less racist.
“We are a truly progressive company that has absolutely no tolerance for discrimination of any kind,” said Mark Lee, the chief executive officer of Barneys, in a statement on behalf of the company. The whole ordeal does seem like another case of eloquent and expensive lip service, punctuated with a financial slap on the wrist. Time will reveal whether those “reforms” really invoke change at Barneys and other high end retailers of the same ilk.