In March 2013, actor Rob Brown was accosted and detained by undercover cops at Macy’s flagship location in Herald Square, New York. Accused of credit card fraud while attempting to purchase a $1,300 watch, Brown, an African-American best known for his role in HBO’s Treme, was handcuffed and search before being released. The incident sparked a national discussion about racial profiling at major retailers like Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor and The Gap. Last week, Brown settled his racial profiling lawsuit against Macy’s for undisclosed terms.
After Brown's incident, high-end merchandiser Barneys became beset by the same issues of racial profiling. In October 2013, 21-year-old nursing student Kayla Phillips and 19-year-old college student Trayon Christian were each detained by undercover cops after making credit card purchases. Each was accused of credit card fraud and detained.
These incidents became a catalyst in the creation of the Customer Bill of Rights, drafted by the Retail Council of New York State and signed by Macy's. Bergdorf's, Barneys, Lord & Taylor, Saks and The Gap. In the document, racial profiling is declared “unacceptable practice and will not be tolerated.” The document prohibits profiling and “unreasonable searches.” Workers who violate its tenets are subject to disciplinary action up and including termination.
While the effectiveness of the Customer Bill of Rights is difficult to quantify at this point, there have been no publicized incidents of racial profiling at any of New York's high-end retailers since last year. There’s no word, as of press time, if Barneys will settle lawsuits against them by Phillips and Christian. With Brown being a working TV actor who can afford proper legal representation, we hope Phillips and Christian will find similar high level lawyers to win them settlements as well.