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Macy's agrees to prevent discrimination against customers

NEW YORK - An agreement with Macy’s Retail Holdings, Inc., addressing more than a dozen recent complaints of profiling and false detentions at Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan’s Herald Square was announced on Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The agreement will help ensure that all customers, regardless of their race or ethnicity, are treated equally at the retail giant’s 42 New York State stores. The settlement, which requires that Macy’s pay $650,000, is the second agreement reached this month by the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau with a retail establishment in New York City -- and comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The half-century-old federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin in public accommodations.  

“It is absolutely unacceptable -- and it’s illegal -- for anyone in New York to be treated like a criminal simply because of the color of their skin,”  Schneiderman said. “Recent allegations of racial profiling at some of New York’s most famous stores stand as a stark reminder that the protections afforded by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are still needed today – and that equal justice under law remains an American ideal we are striving to attain. This agreement will help ensure that no one is unfairly singled out as a suspected criminal when they shop in New York and that all New Yorkers enjoy full and equal access to our retail establishments.”

The Civil Rights Bureau opened an investigation into Macy’s in February 2013, when it received several complaints regarding minority customers. The office has received complaints from close to two dozen African-American, Latino and other customers who are members of ethnic minority groups who claimed that they had been apprehended and detained at Macy’s, despite not having stolen or having attempted to steal any Macy’s merchandise. The consumers alleged they were racially profiled; that officials at the store, located at 151 West 34th Street, detained and falsely accused minorities at far greater rates than white customers of committing crimes, and that Macy’s was engaging in improper apprehensions and detentions.  

The complaints alleged, among other things, that minority customers were wrongly stopped and detained by loss prevention employees of the store after traveling between floors by escalator with unconcealed merchandise, despite having no intention of shoplifting, and that customers with limited English proficiency suspected of shoplifting or credit card fraud were not permitted to make phone calls, were denied access to an interpreter, and were required to sign trespass notices even though they could not understand the notices in English.  

In addition to reviewing complaints by customers, the Attorney General’s Office met with former Macy’s sales representatives for the Herald Square department store who alleged that loss prevention employees at the store tracked and followed African -American, Latino, and other minority customers much more frequently than white customers.  Finally, the Attorney General’s review of data produced by Macy’s showed that Macy’s investigated and detained minorities for allegedly shoplifting at significantly higher rates than whites.