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Barneys to Pay $525k in Racial Profiling Settlement

Following a nine-month investigation, Barneys New York has agreed to pay $525,000 in penalties and adopt new anti-profiling policies after minority shoppers at its Madison Ave. flagship alleged they were unfairly treated based on race.

The high-end retailer found itself in hot water last year after two customers were falsely accused of credit card fraud while shopping in the store.

Eighteen-year-old African-American engineering student Trayon Christian purchased a Salvatore Ferragamo belt for $349 at the flagship last April, and after paying with his debit card and leaving the store, NYPD detectives stopped the teen claiming that someone from Barneys had concerns about the authenticity of his debit card. Kayla Phillips, another African-American shopper, came forward in October claiming a similar experience.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman led the investigation into the allegations and found that Barneys kept inadequate records of stops made by loss-prevention staff, but despite that, existing records “showed a disproportionate number of African-American and Latino customers being detained for alleged shoplifting or credit card fraud.” The investigation also found that Barneys did not have comprehensive written policies on racial profiling in place, or anything regarding use of race-neutral criteria for investigating potential shoplifting or credit card fraud.

The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau reviewed several complaints from customers and former Barneys employees. The complaints alleged that:

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  • Door guards identified minority customers exclusively as warranting surveillance;
  • In-store detectives followed minority customers, even when the customers had been identified by sales associates as clients and frequent patrons of the store;
  • In-store detectives disproportionately asked sales associates to reprint receipts after minority customers made purchases in order to confirm the purchases were legitimate;
  • In-store detectives disproportionately called sales associates who handled and completed minority customers’ transactions in order to investigate the customers’ credit card use; and
  • Some sales associates avoided serving minority customers so they would not be contacted by loss-prevention employees seeking to investigate the use of credit cards by minority customers.

Schneiderman said in a statement Monday, “Profiling and racial discrimination remain a problem in our state, but not one we are willing to accept. This agreement will continue our work to ensure there’s one set of rules for everyone in public accommodations, including customers in New York’s retail establishments.” He added, “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.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Barneys will:

  • Retain an independent anti-profiling consultant with expertise in the prevention of racial profiling in loss prevention and asset protection;
  • Establish new recordkeeping requirements on investigations, detentions and false stops conducted by loss-prevention employees;
  • Limit access to its closed-circuit TV areas by local law enforcement officers and maintain records of visits by local law enforcement officers;
  • Adopt new loss-prevention detention policies and a new anti-profiling policy;
  • Develop and conduct anti-profiling training for loss-prevention and sales employees;
  • Investigate customer complaints of profiling; and
  • Pay $525,000 in costs, fees, and penalties.

In a statement, 90-year-old Barneys said it was pleased to have reached an agreement on the allegations. “We are a truly progressive company that has absolutely no tolerance for discrimination of any kind,” the statement noted.