There seems to be a common thread in fashion law news as of late and that’s discrimination in department stores. First, we told you that Trayon Christian, a 19-year-old black college student, has sued Barneys claiming racial discrimination arising from his purchase of a $350 Ferragamo belt. Then came another racial discrimination lawsuit brought by 21-year-old Kayla Phillips after being “attacked” and “pushed” by undercover police officers who questioned her purchase of a $2,500 Céline bag from Barneys.
Since these suits became public knowledge, a lot has happened. For one, fans of Jay Z have questioned whether he will move forward with his holiday collection with the luxury department store. Also, the question loomed, what, if anything, reps from Barneys would have to say on the recent events and whether or not there would be any changes made. The answers have come, and we’ve got them all for you below, plus another discrimination lawsuit against Macy’s.
First, let’s starts with the statement from Mark Lee, CEO of Barneys New York:
Barneys New York believes that no customer should have the unacceptable experience described in recent media reports, and we offer our sincere regret and deepest apologies.
Further to our statement of yesterday, we want to reinforce that Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination. We are a strong proponent of equal rights and equal treatment for all human beings. Our mission is to ensure that all customers receive the highest-quality service—without exception.
To this end, 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. To lead this review, we have retained a civil rights expert, Michael Yaki, who also serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission has been the nation’s watchdog for civil rights for more than 50 years. Mr. Yaki will be provided with unrestricted access to all aspects of our store operations.
In addition, Barneys New York has reached out to community leaders to begin a dialogue on this important issue.
While we’re hoping that the “dialogue” leads to a shopping community in which no person is made to feel as though his or her money is unwelcome or tainted, said talks are definitely too little too late as far as Christian and Phillips are concerned.
Next up, whether or not Jay Z will take action based on the Change.org petition suggesting the rapper withdraw his support from Barneys. Spoiler alert: thus far, it seems as though he will move forward with his plans to create a holiday collection. The NYC-based musician made a statement on his personal website, which first corrects some misreporting:
I am not making a dime from this collection; I do not stand to make millions, as falsely reported. I need to make that fact crystal clear. The Shawn Carter Foundation is the beneficiary and the foundation is receiving 25% of all sales from the collaboration, 10% of all sales generated in the store on November 20th and an additional donation from Barneys. This money is going to help individuals facing socio-economic hardships to help further their education at institutions of higher learning. My idea was born out of creativity and charity… not profit.
Mr. Carter goes on to say that he didn’t immediately comment on the two instances and his involvement with Barneys because “making a decision prematurely to pull out of this project, wouldn’t hurt Barneys or Shawn Carter, but all the people that stand a chance at higher education.”
And finally, moving away from Barneys but sticking with racial discrimination in a department store, we get to the matter between actor Rob Brown and Macy’s. Brown, who starred as Jamal in "Finding Forrester”, has filed suit against the retailer and the New York Police Department claiming he was unlawfully searched by undercover officers after he purchased a $1,000 watch for his mother in Macy’s Herald Square.
According to the Manhattan Supreme Court, Brown claims that he presented his ID to the officers and was told the ID was false and that he could not afford to make such an expensive purchase. The Brooklyn-based actor was detained for over an hour before being let go without charge. Perhaps one of the worst parts of this story is that Brown was buying the watch to give to his mom as a graduation gift and because he was being detained, he missed the special moment. His mom was graduating from college, “walking across the stage looking for” him, and all the while he was being wrongfully detained.
According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), more than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers each year, so we’re aware and understand that there’s a heightened sense of urgency when it comes to items being unlawfully taken from a store. That being said, when it comes to determining if a customer is in fact stealing merchandise, racial profiling should never enter the equation. As for whether or not these lawsuits will be successful, only time will tell. But without more to add to the known facts, this recent cluster of incidents makes it impossible to deny that some department stores are falling short when it comes to determining who the real thieves are.
Jennifer Williams is a recent law student grad, who writes about fashion, the legal avenues available for protecting it, and the ways in which the laws are falling short. For more from Jennifer, visit her blog, StartFashionPause, or follow her on Twitter.