NEW YORK (AP) — Barneys New York department store, accused of racially profiling shoppers, said Thursday it has retained a civil rights expert to lead a review of its policies and procedures and has reached out to community leaders to start a dialogue.
Two black shoppers said they were questioned by police after they made expensive purchases at the Manhattan store. One has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Barneys, the city and its police department; the other has filed a complaint with the city's police watchdog agency.
The president of the Brooklyn chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, Kirsten John Foy, and the CEO of Barneys, Mark Lee, spoke Thursday and planned to meet next week, Sharpton's spokeswoman Rachel Nordlinger said. The civil rights group said earlier it would picket the store if the pattern of racial profiling alleged by the shoppers doesn't stop.
Lee offered his "sincere regret and deepest apologies." "We are conducting a thorough review of our practices and procedures as they relate to these matters to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality," he said in a statement.
The store has retained San Francisco attorney Michael Yaki, who serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to lead the review. The profiling claims also incited criticism on Twitter and an online petition asking rapper Jay-Z, who's collaborating with the luxury retailer for a holiday collection, to disassociate from it. An email to his representative seeking comment was unanswered.
Barneys shopper Trayon Christian, 19, on Monday filed a lawsuit saying he was detained solely because he's a young black man. According to the lawsuit, Christian, of Queens, went to Barneys on April 29 and bought a $350 Ferragamo belt. After leaving, he said, he was accosted by undercover New York Police Department officers, who said someone at the store had raised concerns over the sale. The lawsuit said he showed the officers the receipt, the debit card he used and identification but was told the identification was false and "he could not afford to make such an expensive purchase."
The lawsuit said he was held in a cell for more than two hours before being released with no charges filed. It said the incident was due to "discrimination based on plaintiff's race and age." The NYPD said it has gotten 57 grand larceny complaints this year from Barneys for credit card-related fraud. Police said they've made 11 credit card-related arrests and more than 50 larceny arrests at the Madison Avenue store.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said it's standard practice for Barneys and other stores to call police after crimes are committed in them. He wouldn't comment specifically about the two cases under investigation but said no detectives were stationed in or near Barneys.
The second shopper, who heard about the lawsuit, came forward Wednesday to say she had a similar experience after buying a $2,500 Celine handbag in February. Kayla Phillips, 21, told the Daily News and the New York Post she was surrounded by police officers after leaving the store. She said they demanded to know why she used a debit card without a name on it.
Phillips, of Brooklyn, explained it was a temporary card, and after showing police identification and a new debit card that had arrived in the mail that morning they let her go. The city's Law Department said it was waiting for a copy of Christian's lawsuit and would review it.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.
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