Macy's to Pay $650,000 in Racial-Profiling Settlement

By Julissa Catalan

Following an 18-month investigation, Macy’s has agreed to pay a $650,000 settlement to address racial-profiling claims at its flagship store on 34th Street in New York City.

The Herald Square store had been accused of disproportionately accusing Blacks and Latinos of shoplifting, and in some cases subjecting them to heightened surveillance procedures and even detention.

The agreement—which was signed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and is applicable to all 42 Macy’s stores in the state—says that “loss prevention” procedures exercised by Macy’s staff and security were investigated.

It was concluded that Macy’s “detained African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities for allegedly shoplifting at significantly higher rates relative to whites.”

“This agreement will help ensure that no one is unfairly singled out as a suspected criminal when they shop in New York,” Schneiderman said.

“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,” he added.

Between 2007 and 2013, the attorney general’s Civil Rights Bureau recorded complaints from 18 Black and Latino shoppers who claimed they had been falsely accused of and detained for suspected shoplifting or credit-card fraud.

The agreement cites data collected from October 2012 through October 2013 showing that Macy’s employees apprehended and detained 1,947 customers at the Herald Square store. Meanwhile, about 6,000 people were detained at stores throughout New York.

Multiple customers who spoke limited English were denied an interpreter and forced to sign trespass notices they were unable to read.

The agreement now requires Macy’s to publicly post its Customers’ Bill of Rights in English and Spanish in all its New York stores and on the Macy’s website.

Per the new deal with the attorney general, Macy’s has three months to hire an independent expert who will be responsible for monitoring and improving its antishoplifting efforts. Macy’s also agreed to keep records of its staff training and security procedures, distribute an anti-racial-profiling memorandum to employees, and eliminate a policy that allows security guards to stop shoppers who take an item from one department of the store to the other rather than paying for it in its corresponding department. The company will also adopt new policies on police access to security cameras for three years.

“To be clear, our company’s policies strictly prohibit any form of discrimination or racial profiling and any occurrence of such behavior will not be tolerated in our organization,” Macy’s said in a statement. “Moving forward, our company will be initiating a series of measures including enhanced training and education for our loss prevention and sales associates. We also will be adopting an expanded role for our security monitor to help ensure that we have the right policies and procedures in place, and that we are constantly reviewing our compliance with them.”

This is the second time Macy’s has had to make a large payout due to racial-profiling claims. In 2005, the company paid $600,000 to settle a complaint regarding 29 different New York stores. That investigation also concluded that Macy’s detained Blacks and Latinos at a disproportionately high rate compared to the number of Blacks and Latinos who shopped there.

Last month, Macy’s reached a settlement with actor Robert Brown, known for his roles in Finding Forrester, Coach Carter and HBO’s Treme, in his civil racial-discrimination lawsuit. Brown was stopped by police after purchasing a $1,300 Movado watch in June 2013. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

According to the actor’s attorney, “Police officers ran up to him, arrested him, and then kept him in a jail cell in Macy’s.”

Brown said the watch was a college graduation gift for his mother—he missed the ceremony while being detained by police for questioning.

Per the lawsuit, after presenting his receipt, credit card and ID to investigators, Brown “was told that his identification was false and that he could not afford to make such an expensive purchase,” and was subsequently handcuffed and detained. He was released an hour later without being charged.

Another New York retailer, Barneys New York, settled a similar case for $525,000 just last week.

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