NEW YORK — Mark Lee, chief executive officer of Barneys New York, said Tuesday at a press conference at National Action Network headquarters in Harlem that his store’s personnel weren’t responsible for detaining and questioning two black customers for alleged credit card fraud after making luxury purchases at the store.

This story first appeared in the October 30, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Our preliminary investigation concluded that in both of these instances, no one from Barneys New York raised an issue with the purchases, brought them to the attention of internal security or reached out to the authorities,” said Lee. He acknowledged that no one should go through the unacceptable experiences described by Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips in recent media reports, “and we offer our deepest sympathies to them both.”

Both Christian and Phillips were questioned by officers from the New York Police Department after they made expensive purchases at the Barneys flagship. Christian has filed a discrimination suit against Barneys, the city and the NYPD, while Phillips has filed a $5 million notice of claim.

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Eric Schneiderman, the New York Attorney General, is investigating Macy’s and Barneys after complaints from black customers who were stopped by police after making luxury purchases. He has set a Friday deadline for stores to turn over information about their policies for detaining and questioning customers based on race.

“Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we are committed to treating everyone who comes into our stores with respect and dignity,” said Lee. In addition, Lee said that Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and the Shawn Carter Foundation have been a good partner from the start and there are no plans to end the collaboration. A petition had circulated online calling for Jay Z to cancel his collaboration with Barneys for the holiday season. “Our collaboration is based on a shared mission of helping individuals facing socioeconomic hardships to help further their education at institutions of higher learning. We regret that these recent events have distracted from the great work of the Shawn Carter Foundation, and we offer our apologies to Mr. Carter,” said Lee.

Moving forward, the Barneys ceo said that there is a broader issue that needs to be addressed, and the retailer is committed to being part of the solution. “We appreciate that we were given the opportunity to discuss this important subject with Rev. [Al] Sharpton and other leaders here today,” said Lee. “We look forward to collaborating with them and the broader retail community to bring about positive change.”

Lee and Daniella Vitale, Barneys chief operating officer, met with Sharpton, president of National Action Network; Kirsten John Foy, chairman of NAN’s Brooklyn conference, and Hazel Dukes, president of the New York chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among others, prior to the press conference. The meeting at NAN headquarters was closed to media.

 

During the press conference, Sharpton said he wants to move forward before the holidays to address retailers on the “shop and frisk” issue. “We are solution-oriented. We are not interested in retailers coming to our affairs or supporting some local situation,” he said. “We are interested in a policy that will not render blacks as automatic suspects when they go in stores and are treated any differently than anyone else. Whether it is Barneys, Macy’s, Saks, Bergdorf Goodman or the corner store, we cannot live in a city where our consumer dollars are devalued based on the fact of predisposed bias. It was in that spirit that we talked to Mr. Lee.…We had a very candid and open meeting today to begin a dialogue.”

Sharpton said he was concerned with the two cases that have been filed. “We want to see those victims dealt with fairly and justly. Secondly, we want to see a coming together of a broad section of community leaders and a broad section of ceo’s representing the major retailers in this city to address racial profiling, and address how retailers and NYPD relate on the issue of ‘shop and frisk.’ This must be done immediately…to talk about conduct and policy,” said Sharpton. He said the community should not invest their dollars in companies and stores that do not respect them personally.

During a brief question-and-answer period, a person said he heard from former security employees at Barneys that new management has put pressure on security guards to turn in more people suspected of using fraudulent cards. “That’s not the policy of Barneys,” said Lee. “Barneys has zero tolerance of discrimination of any form. Racial profiling is an extremely serious form of discrimination, and we take it very seriously. If we found that to be true we would terminate the individual.”

 

As reported, Robert Brown, an actor who stars in the HBO series “Treme,” said he was racially profiled at Macy’s Herald Square on June 8. He allegedly was stopped by at least three plainclothes officers, accused of using a fraudulent credit card and detained at the store. He has filed a lawsuit against Macy’s and the NYPD. On Sunday, Macy’s said that preliminary findings of its own investigation showed no involvement of Macy’s personnel in Brown’s detention, which was characterized as an NYPD action. “Macy’s permitted the New York City Police Department, at its request, to use a room in the Macy’s Herald Square store in relation to its detention of Mr. Brown, but Macy’s personnel were not involved,” it said.

Another complaint was filed by Art Palmer, 56, an exercise trainer from Brooklyn, who said he was accosted by police, who demanded to see identification after he used his credit card to buy $320 worth of Polo merchandise at Macy’s in April.

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