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

JENNIFER PELTZ
Associated Press

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 Monday in announcing the settlement.

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.

“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 said.

Schneiderman’s investigation came after public complaints last fall from Phillips and another Barneys shopper, Trayon Christian, who also is black. Both sued the store and the city.

Christian’s lawyer noted 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 to drop his collaboration with the luxury retailer on a holiday collection. Jay-Z 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 vigilance 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.

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Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.

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