Lord & Taylor has agreed to pay $100,000 to resolve a racial discrimination investigation, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced this past week. The country’s oldest department store revealed that in addition to the fine, it will “hire an expert consultant to review and improve its shoplifting prevention policies and procedures, and to train its staff” in order to put an end to a nearly 5-year-long investigation into its loss prevention practices, which was prompted by a 2014 incident involving a black woman who was attempting to purchase perfume in one of Lord & Taylor’s Massachusetts outposts.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office initiated the investigation specifically in connection with “concerns that the company's efforts to prevent shoplifting perpetuated a climate of racial and ethnic bias at its four Massachusetts stores.”
Lord & Taylor was facing allegations that it disproportionately targeted minority shoppers, namely, black and Hispanic individuals, for surveillance and apprehension, thereby, giving rise to potential violations of the Massachusetts Public Accommodations Law and Consumer Protection Act. Together, these laws make it unlawful for any business that solicits or accepts the patronage of the general public to distinguish among customers on the basis of their race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability, and prohibits them from engaging in unfair or deceptive conduct.
The Lord & Taylor settlement comes 4 years after fellow New York-headquartered department store Barneys agreed to settle an investigation initiated against it by the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Office, following from the filing of two lawsuit by two black shoppers, who each accused Barneys of racial profiling and discrimination.
Ultimately, Barneys agreed to pay $525,000 in fees and penalties and to implement a series of changes to ensure it does not discriminate against black and Hispanic customers.
As the Huffington Post revealed at the time, citing a former Barneys employee, who spoke on condition she not be named for fear of jeopardizing her career in the industry, that the culture of racism was rampant at Barneys and in the fashion/retail industry at large.
Fast forward to late 2016 and Versace was hauled into court by a former employee, who claimed that the American arm of the Italian fashion brand maintained a practice of using a code to label black consumers. According to the lawsuit that Christopher Sampino filed in a California state court in December 2016, staffers in Versace’s outlet store in Pleasanton, California used the code "D410,” the code used by the brand for labeling black clothing, “in a casual manner to alert co-workers when a black person entered the store.”
That case was still pending as of this summer, just as Nordstrom Rack was coming under fire for calling the police on 3 black teens, who were shopping for prom attire at its store in Brentwood, Mo., asserting suspicions of shoplifting. Shortly after coming under fire, Nordstrom apologized and promised to work on ways to prevent racial profiling from happening again in its stores.
The Nordstrom incident “calls further attention” to the seemingly unabated racial profiling in commercial spaces, the Washington Post’s Rachel Siegel stated this spring.
As Attorney General Healey noted this past week, “Far too often, shoppers are unfairly viewed as suspicious or not belonging, simply because of their race or ethnicity. This takes a toll on individuals and broader communities, even when it is the result of unconscious bias, and it is our collective responsibility to address it.”