Human Rights Commissioner Cautions Retailers to Avoid Racial Profiling
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has found probable cause that retailers engaged in illegal discrimination by detaining customers they accused of shoplifting in two separate cases.
An African American woman detained at a Marshalls store in Crystal, and an African American man accused of shoplifting at a Walgreens store in St. Paul, were both subjected to discrimination because of their race, the department has found.
In separate settlement agreements, Marshalls has agreed to pay the customer it accused and detained $20,000, and Walgreens has agreed to a $5,000 settlement.
“It’s important for retail stores to take appropriate measures to prevent shoplifting, which tends to be a particular problem during the holiday season,” said Commissioner of Human Rights Kevin Lindsey. “But loss prevention efforts must not be based on racial stereotypes, and stores must not engage in racial profiling. Those who do so violate the state Human Rights Act by denying some customers the full and equal enjoyment of their goods, services, and facilities, based on race.”
Customer Detained at Marshalls
In the case involving Marshalls, customer Crystal Adams was stopped by a loss prevention officer as she was leaving the store with her son. The officer allegedly pushed her back into the store, and accused her of shoplifting an outfit she had placed in her purse.
She was taken to a back room in the store, detained there and questioned by two security officers, according to the charge she filed with the Department of Human Rights. “I was kept in the room for 30 to 60 minutes,” Adams stated.
She told the security officers that she had a receipt for the outfit, which she had purchased during a previous shopping trip, in her purse. The loss prevention officers allegedly told her the receipt didn’t matter, and that they had observed her place an outfit in her purse on camera. As she continued to protest her innocence, “He (a loss prevention officer) told me if I did not stop talking, he would lock me up,” according to Adams.
After a manager viewed a video recording of the behavior that had led the officers to detain her, Adams was allowed to leave Marshalls, given a trespass notice, and told not to return to the store, according to her charge.
In answering the charge, Marshalls acknowledge that it had mistakenly believed Adams was a shoplifter, but denied that race was a factor in apprehending and detaining her.
However, the Department of Human Rights concluded that race probably was a factor in Adams’ detention. The loss prevention supervisor’s apprehension “included at least one dismissive reference to the charging part as ‘you people’ and was more brutal than the respondent has admitted,” the department noted.
In addition to paying Crystal Adams $20,000, Marshalls has agreed to provide its loss prevention and security staff with training on the public accommodations provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and to review and revise its loss prevention policies to ensure compliance with the act. Marshalls denies that it discriminated against Adams or violated the Human Rights Act.
Bias Alleged at Walgreens
In the case involving a Walgreens store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, customer Johnny Aldridge picked up and paid for a prescription, then continued to shop for “stocking stuffers” in the store. He was soon approached by two Walgreen’s employees, who told him that the store’s surveillance system had recorded him putting something in his pocket.
“I proceeded to remove my jacket and lift up my shirt, so they could see I had not taken anything,” Aldridge explained, in a charge filed with the Department of Human Rights.
“I requested that the respondent’s employees show me the tape and call the police. The employees refused.” They also refused to allow him to purchase the items he had gathered in his cart, and instead ordered him to leave the store, according to Aldridge.
“I believe that the Respondents’ employees conducted racial profiling without any evidence that I had shoplifted,” Aldridge told the Department of Human Rights. “I do not believe a white customer would have been treated in this manner.
Walgreens denied that it had engaged in racial profiling, and argued that the customer had been detained because his shopping pattern was “highly unusual.”
In its investigation, the Department of Human Rights determined that the evidence supports the conclusion that Walgreens’ actions were wrongfully motivated by racial bias.
The Department noted that Walgreens failed to provide information that was requested in the course of its investigation, including policy manuals and personnel files. The store had replaced its surveillance system since the date of the alleged incident, and surveillance video of the night in question was no longer available, Walgreens said.
“The Department has failed to receive information from the respondent that was ordered to be submitted by subpoena to the respondent,” the Department noted. “With these facts present, it is reasonable to find a lack of credibility in the respondent’s argument against the charge of discrimination.”
In a settlement negotiated by the Department of Human Rights, Walgreen’s agreed to pay Johnny Aldridge $5,000, to provide its loss prevention and security staff with training on the public accommodations provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, and to review and revise its loss prevention policies to ensure compliance with the act. Walgreens denies that it discriminated against Aldridge or violated the Human Rights Act.
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