Yesterday, WNYC reported that four former employees of New York City CVS stores filed a federal lawsuit against the pharmacy chain, alleging that they were directed to focus their attention on black and hispanic visitors when rooting out shoplifters. This comes as no surprise to anyone who as ever worked in retail, or any person of color who has ever stepped inside a store.
The plaintiffs—who are black and hispanic themselves—had some horror stories:
The complaint detailed a number of comments reportedly made, including a manager telling an employee to “hide like a monkey.” Plaintiff Sheree Steele was reportedly told to, “Watch the black and Hispanic people to catch more cases.” Plaintiff Lacole Simpson was reportedly told, “these Black people are always the ones that are the thieves.”
I’ll share a story of my own: At the Boston Urban Outfitters where I worked in college, we had two code words that we were instructed to use over our walkie talkies when a suspected shoplifter was inside the store—one for when we were pretty sure someone was about to steal; one for when we were certain, or if they already had stolen. If you were working the register near the front door and a group of black men or boys walked in—and especially if they were wearing backpacks—you were expected to use the suspected shoplifter code word immediately.
I ignored the policy, but kept my mouth shut about it. When a manager observed me standing at the front register and not calling out a group of black high-schoolers, she gave me a passive-aggressive talking-to; when a braver coworker than me vocalized his displeasure with the rule, the same manager asked him, “Are you threatening me?”
A CVS representative told WNYC that the company “has firm nondiscrimination policies that it rigorously enforces.” I’m sure the part about having policies against discrimination is true, but from my experience in retail, I’m even surer that the part about rigorous enforcement of those policies is not.
What about you? Have you been racially profiled while shopping? Have you been asked to racially profile customers while working your retail job? Leave your stories below.