Barneys to pay $525,000 in shopper-profiling probe

NEW YORK (AP)

Barneys has agreed to pay $525,000 to resolve allegations that minorities were singled out as suspected shoplifters at its flagship store, part of a spate of racial profiling complaints against major retailers last year.

Barneys shoppers and ex-employees complained that detectives followed minority customers around – even after staffers identified them as frequent patrons – and disproportionately investigated their credit-card use, so much so that some salespeople even avoided serving minority shoppers so as to avoid getting calls from store investigators, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in announcing the settlement Monday.

Besides the $525,000 in fines and expenses, Barneys will hire an “anti-profiling consultant” for two years, update its policy and record-keeping on detaining customers suspected of theft, and improve training of security and sales personnel.

“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,” Schneiderman said in a release.

“I feel very vindicated today. … Finally, Barneys appears to have conceded that they unreasonably followed, stopped and detained people who look just like me in their stores,” shopper Kayla Phillips said in a statement released by her lawyer, Kareem R. Vessup.

Phillips, who is black, came forward last fall to say she was surrounded by police officers upon leaving the store after buying a $2,500 handbag in February 2013 with a temporary debit card. Police ultimately let her go.

Barneys CEO Mark Lee said in a statement that the company was pleased with the settlement, first reported by the Daily News.

“Barneys New York has prided itself on providing an unparalleled customer experience to every person that comes into contact with our brand ?open and welcoming to one and all,” Lee’s statement said.

Schneiderman’s investigation came after Barney’s shoppers Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips, both of whom are black, said last fall they were detained by police in separate incidents after making expensive purchases at the Madison Avenue luxury emporium. Both have sued the store and city.

Christian’s lawyer noted Monday that a review last fall – commissioned by Barneys ?had found the store didn’t have a written or unwritten policy to profile customers.

“We are pleased that Barney’s has acknowledged their responsibility,” said Christian’s lawyer, Michael B. Palillo. “We are hopeful that this offensive and discriminatory conduct will finally come to an end.”

Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton met with Lee to discuss the issue and the furor spurred an online petition asking rapper Jay-Z, who was collaborating with the luxury retailer for a holiday collection, to disassociate from it. He ultimately decided to move forward with the project, which raised money for his charitable foundation, under the condition that he helped lead the store’s review of its policies.

Sharpton said in a statement Monday that Barneys’ agreement with the attorney general was a “move in the right direction,” but continued monitoring is needed.

Meanwhile, minority shoppers – including actor Rob Brown – made similar complaints last year against other New York stores including Macy’s, which had paid a $600,000 fine and promised changes in 2005 after the then-attorney general made similar claims. Macy’s and the “Treme” actor reached a settlement in principle last month in his federal civil rights suit over the matter, both sides said, declining to detail the terms.

In December, Barney’s, Macy’s and several other major retailers agreed to create and publicize a customer bill of rights. Sharpton’s National Action Network plans to send people into stores to spot-check compliance, he said Monday.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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