Lord & Taylor is one of many retailers cleaning up its act. The department store settled a racial discrimination case in Massachusetts earlier this month, agreeing to pay a onetime fee of $100,000 and retrain parts of its staff.
The original complaint was filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office in 2014 after an African-American woman tried to purchase perfume at a Lord & Taylor in the predominantly white town of Braintree, Mass., just south of Boston.
The woman filing the complaint alleged a sales associate approached her and instead of offering to help, asked her if she intended to buy anything and then referenced the price of certain products. The department store said the salesperson’s behavior stemmed from an effort to prevent shoplifting, according to a spokesperson from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.
Lord & Taylor, owned by parent company Hudson’s Bay, would not respond to a request for comment.
The investigation looked into all four Massachusetts Lord & Taylor locations, including Boston’s Braintree; Burlington, Mass., and Natick, Mass., and examined whether the retailer was violating the Massachusetts Accommodations Law and Consumer Protection Act by unfairly targeting black and Hispanic customers.
After an investigation, the Attorney General’s office found that other customers, as well as former employees, felt the company was treating minority shoppers differently than white customers.
“Far too often, shoppers are unfairly viewed as suspicious or not belonging, simply because of their race or ethnicity,” Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.
According to the settlement, Lord & Taylor will hire an outside consultant to help retrain its staff. All customer-facing Lord & Taylor employees will be required to receive implicit bias training at least once a year for a period of three years. Training for security personnel will also receive a makeover as the department store works with the Attorney General’s office to make other relevant changes, including a “Customer Bill of Rights,” which will provide phone numbers and e-mail addresses posted in all Massachusetts stores as a resource for customers to file complaints.
The Attorney General said she is pleased with the resolution of the case.
“This is an example for other retailers to look to in terms of some of the steps that they can take to address potential or existing racial profiling or discrimination in their businesses,” Healey said.
The case highlights a broader effort to address discrimination throughout retail. In fact, the allegations against Lord & Taylor are just one set of many against retailers accused of racial profiling minority customers.
Earlier this year, an African-American man in Iowa said he was the target of racial profiling at Old Navy after he said a sales associate accused him of not paying for a jacket he said he wore into the store. Last summer, the Massachusetts Attorney General filed a racial discrimination suit against The Tannery, an independent apparel and accessories retailer with locations in Boston and Cambridge, Mass., alleging that the owner refused service to an African American man and a Middle Eastern woman based on their race. Macy’s and Barneys New York have also had racial discrimination cases brought against them in the past.
“This is an industry problem,” Healey said. “It’s not something that’s limited to any one retailer.”