Screenshot / WSOC video

Archived: What's Under Your Shirt: Staples Manager Accuses Pregnant Black Woman of Shoplifting, Informs Cop

UPDATE: Aug. 16, 2018

Staples has fired a store manager who falsely accused, Sherell Bates, currently 34-weeks pregnant with twins, of stealing from a Pineville, N.C., store by hiding merchandise under her shirt.

The manager, whose name has not been released, asked a police officer present in the store to question Bates.

Staples conducted “a full investigation into the matter, and determined that the manager in question did not follow correct protocol, and also failed to adhere to our existing policy on how to interact with our customers,” the company said, in a email to WSOC.


Sherell Bates went shopping at a Staples store in Pineville, N.C., to buy school supplies for her children, and she was humiliated. A store manager racially profiled Bates, believing she may have been “concealing merchandise” under her shirt — she is pregnant with twins.

Staples, Inc., an office supply retailer based in Framingham, Mass., is led by president and CEO J. Alexander Douglas. Its executive leadership is predominantly white and male.

In an issued apology, the company confirmed the manager “mistakenly thought” Bates “was possibly shoplifting and asked a police officer that happened to be in the store to talk with the customer.”

Bates told WSOC she plans on contacting the corporate office on Monday and possibly seeking legal action for the incident, which occurred on Friday.

The officer “insisted he wanted to speak with me,” Bates told the news channel. “He asked what was under my shirt.”

“Initially, I thought he was joking, so my response was, ‘Twins,'” Bates said. “I’m 34 weeks with twins. I’m having a boy and a girl.”

He then asked her the question once more, she said.

“At that point, to avoid him asking me again, I actually lifted my shirt just a little bit, just to expose my belly, so he could see that I’m just a regular pregnant person buying school supplies,” Bates explained.

Staples said, in its statement, that a “quick conversation” resolved the issue and the manager apologized and gave Bates a refund. The company added that it works with “store associates to try and foster an inclusive culture.”

The statement concluded, “As an organization, we would like to apologize to the customer if that was not the case in this instance.”

Fostering an inclusive environment, which should start from the top down, is, apparently, no longer a priority, as the company struggles to find its footing.

In September, Sycamore Partners completed its $6.9 billion acquisition of Staples, making it a private company.

“The goal for Sycamore was to turn the struggling retailer around, with a bigger focus on serving a corporate market,” according to CNBC.

In January, five months after the acquisition, then CEO and president Shira Goodman stepped down. Goodman began leading the company in 2016, shortly after Staples failed to merge with Office Depot.

She was among the few women CEOs leading one of Massachusetts’ largest employers.

In regard to Bates’ incident at Staples, she said she regrets shopping there.

“Being pregnant is already high-risk, and having to deal with that, [is] just additional stress that I don’t need,” Bates said.

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