June 23, 2003

The World's Largest Retail Discriminator?

(This is a pretty long post)

In 2002, Macy's Herald Square security apprehended approximately 1,600 individuals for alleged shoplifting. 92% were Black, Hispanic, Asian and other people of colore and only 8% were White.
-- Class Action lawsuit claim against Macy's and Federated Department Stores

Thompson Wigdor & Gilly LLP filed a nation-wide class action civil rights lawsuit against Federated Department Stores, Macy's and individual executives including Federated CEO Terry Lundgren, alleging a pattern and practice of racial profiling of people of color for shoplifting.

Earlier this year TWG filed a lawuit after its client, Manhattan legal secretary Sharon Simmons-Thomas, was detained and accused of shoplifting at the Herald Square Macy's. This despite the fact that she had receipts for all of her Christmas season purchases and there was absolutely no evidence to support their wild claims.

Some excerpts from the above press release announcing the refiling as a class action lawsuit:

[...N]ew evidence sohws that what happened to Ms. Thomas is not an isolate incident, but rather is part of a larger and very disturbing pattern that extends across the country. Not only does Macy's have a national policy of targeting people of color for shoplifting, it regularly pressures security guards to shakedown the wrongfully accused for money as part of a shameful profit-padding scheme," said Ken Thompson, lead attorney for the class and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney {for the Southern Brooklyn region} who prosecuted the police officers responsible for violating Abner Louima's civil rights.

[ . . . ]

New statistical evidence paints a horrific picture of racial profiling, not only at the Herald Store, but also at other stores, including Macy's Boston, MA; Plantation, FL; Nassau County, New York and White Plains, New York. This information exposes a dramatic disparity -- in excess of 90% in a number of stores -- between the number of white and non-white customers accused of shoplifting, as well as additional ongoing discriminatory behavior by Macy's and Federated including:

* Targeting people of color to be personally followed by security staff and using "race codes" to identify African-Americans when they enter Macy's stores;

* Tolerating the use of racially derogatory comments by security managers, including referring to African-American shoppers as "Monkeys";

* Imposing actual "quotas" for the number of shoplifting cases that security personnel are required to make;

* Using threats of sustained detainment (sometimes handcuffed or confined to holding cells) or criminal prosecution to demand in-store monetary payments from people of color falsely accused of shoplifting, thereby increasing Macy's profits;

[ . . . ]

* Targeting "Urban Wear" sections of Macy's stores.

That last claim was highlighted by Thompson this past Sunday morning and night on Kiss-FM's news programs with Bob Slade. Before the initial suit was filed, the NYPD had a uniformed police officer stationed in the urban wear section (FUBU, Sean Jean, etc.) which is adjacent to the above mentioned holding cells. How convenient. Immediately following the lawsuit announcement, the officer disappeared. Thompson is demanding answers from the police and I'm sure there'll be some bullshit about it being OK by Commissioner Ray Kelly who is increasingly becoming an ass in relation to People of Color.

"Macy's senior management has attempted to hide it's racially-discriminatory policies by hiring non-white security staff on sales floors, but this transparent attempt at window-dressing cannot disguise that Macy's targets people of color for shoplifting," said Mr. Thompson.

Years ago I worked as a security officer at a high-end retailer on 5th Avenue near the Plaza Hotel. Let's refer to the bastards as BG. BG opened a separate men's outlet across the street from the original store. I recently left the Guggenheim in advance of their closing for renovations and expansion. Almost from the start BG managers demanded that ALL African American shoppers be followed. This despite the fact that they made up an extremely low percentage of shoppers entering the store. It didn't matter if they were dressed in "urban wear" or three-piece suits. They were followed.

BG managers, and not just security management, would get upset if Black shoppers weren't basically harassed. A few months after opening, a new reporting system was implemented. Why, I don't know. It helped confirm my suspicions that the practice of "casing" was racially discriminatory. I reformatted the form used to record all security activity. I would say at least 95% of calls to follow/tail "suspicious" customers were made against People of Color -- the vast majority of them African American males. It got so bad that virtually no Black shopper would escape scrutiny. The only exceptions were long-time customers or those shopping with white customers. I kid you not. Interesting enough, most of the fraud committed in the store was by white males opening multiple instant BG accounts and never paying on the balances. Black customers would either never be offered the chance to open an instant account or have their credit checked although all they needed to start a BG account was a credit/charge card and an official piece of identify like a drivers license. And the vast majority of persons detained for shoplifting were also white males.

When I reported several confrontations this policy generated to the personnel manager, Al S., he took a stroll around the three floors for all of maybe 10-15 minutes and judged my complaint as "exaggerated." It didn't help that other Black employees that griped about the racism demanded by BG disappeared when I told them that I reported how we all felt. Soon after, I was permanently placed at the security desk away from the floor.

I guess they thought it would keep me quiet. Instead, I started making copies of the 10-39 (police lingo for “suspicious activity”) reports and created weekly, monthly and quarterly summaries for myself. Instead of my complaint bettering the situation in the store, it actually increased BG's discrimination. Al S. and Carmine (the Security manager) felt there could be no discrimination with a virtually all non-white security staff. I believe in the 6+ years I worked security there, BG maybe had 2 white security officers. The managers and supervisors were mostly white with a few long-time Black supervisors working night and/or weekend shifts. Many of the security officers did what was mandated, fearing for their jobs or being harassed themselves.

I admit I was a big mouth. Not only about my opposition to racist policies at BG, but also about what I was doing to document the results of said policies. So much so that others knew of my personal summaries. I naively thought other security officers would support efforts to stop the discrimination and improve relations with People of Color shopping in the store. Stupid me kept the reports in security office bins used to store paperwork. After a few days off one spring the old paperwork was gone and so was any chance of continuing personal summaries. Not that it would make a difference. I had become the enemy and facts would not get in the way of the racist bastards at BG.

At one point, we were ordered to call a 10-13 (officer needs assistance) and have ALL security officers follow any group of African American males larger than 2. Talk about stressful situations. I worked the extremely early shift, 5:30am to about 3pm (I was an undergrad at the time) and was already dressed in my street clothes when a 10-13 was called. Since I was already on the floor, I watched the entire incident unfold. About a half dozen young African American males in casual clothing were browsing the floors, enjoying a late, sunny afternoon. Once they were practically surrounded and made to look like thieves, they became angry and demanded to have the reason for such bad treatment. The security officers didn't respond as mandated by BG policy. They said they were messengers and had the right to shop like white customers. They were absolutely right.

Once they immediately left the store, I went outside and told the most vocal among them to follow-up with a letter of complaint to senior management. I gave them the addresses and telephone numbers of the CEO and President of the store and parent company. I'm not sure they followed my advice, but not too long after that incident the assistant security manager of the men's store -- a dark-skinned Latino Republican conservative -- made fun of a complaint sent in by a well-dressed, articulate and "highly-paid" African American male shopper. In fact, this assistant manager would ridicule Black shoppers to their faces when they complained to him or other management. BG didn't (doesn't?) care about complaining Black shoppers. I wished for years that a lawsuit would be filed against the store and managers. I would have testified against them.

For all my troubles, I was labeled a troublemaker and basically forced to leave BG and returned to the Guggenheim. Subsequent to my complaint to Al S., a fellow security officer filed a complaint against a new assistant Security Manager for referring to a younger African American officer as looking "like a monkey" with his Afro-style haircut. "John" was targeted by the assistant manager and fired outright for a violation of policy that never occurred. I testified on his behalf on two occasions in order for him to collect unemployment benefits denied by BG. The first (unknown by BG attorneys) was unopposed by the store. The second, the Security management team was shocked to see me sitting on John's side. During testimony, I passed notes to John's attorney, contradicting statements made by BG staff, including Al S. who outright lied about not receiving the notice to appear for the first hearing because the address was incorrect. Although the address was factually incorrect, any mail sent to the men's store would automatically be forwarded to the main store across the street.

There were other lies and almost immediately after the case, I was forced to work on a construction detail within the store. This meant different, ever-changing work times, late night work, sometimes after midnight and isolation from my fellow officers except the brother-in-law of the then men's store security manager.

Feeling extremely stressed and betrayed by my fellow officers, I left BG for lower pay at the Guggenheim. I essentially gave up. I’m convinced other officers reported my unionization to BG Security Management and they wouldn’t sign pledges to seek union representation after I (along with a couple other brave/na├»ve souls) set up everything to improve our lot.

If you targeted by Macy’s, please contact Thompson Wigdor and Gilly to see about joining the class-action. Don’t let anyone discriminate against you.

Posted by ronn at June 23, 2003 11:11 AM

I am a former 9 year employee of FDS. I was forced out because of a workers comp claim. All of the executives will lie under oath. I have a government taped hearing where a human resources manager lied under oath to protect Macys.I am pursuing a class action law suit in Texas over Toxic Mold with Macys Department Store. Posted by: Sheila Kirk on September 10, 2003 08:36 AM
I use to be a srore detective for macy*s Posted by: jose on January 28, 2005 12:33 PM