Lawsuit Claims Macy’s Detains Minorities In Shoplifting Cells, Makes Them Pay Bogus Fines

More than a year after Macy’s agreed to pay $650K to settle allegations of racial profiling in its stores and promised it would incorporate more staff training to combat such behavior, a woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against the department store, claiming it unfairly detains minority shoppers and puts them in holding cells, whether they’ve done anything wrong or not. On top of that, the complaint claims, Macy’s then extorts those people for bogus fines.

In the complaint [PDF] the woman says the retailer imprisons minority shoplifters in special holding cells.

“This coercive collection practice or scheme has become so profitable that Macy’s…has dedicated an entire unit within its existing store, which operates like a typical jail, equipped with holding cells, where alleged shoplifters are held for hours on end, and are pressured, threatened, and often harassed until they find no reprieve but to make civil penalty payments to [Macy’s],” the suit states.

The plaintiff says that she was detained at Macy’s flagship Herald Square location in New York City back in July 2014. She claims that a guard took her to the cell under suspicion that she was planning to steal a set of shirts. According to the complaint, she was kept in that cell and questioned for three hours, without being given the chance to call a lawyer or her family, and forced to sign papers admitting her guilt. She accuses the retailer of making her pay $100 fine in cash before she was turned over to police.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Macy’s has been here before: an investigation into the retailer by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office concluded back in 2014 that the retailer’s “loss prevention employees at the store tracked and followed African-American, Latino, and other minority customers much more frequently than white customers.”

Schneiderman’s office reviewed 18 complaints from 2007 to 2014 involving minority customers who claimed to have been held wrongly for shoplifting at the Herald Square store. Investigators found that Macy’s detained 1,947 people in a one-year period at the store, compared to about 6,000 total at Macy’s other 42 stores in New York state.

A Macy’s spokesperson told TIME it rejects the lawsuit’s claims and that the company is in full compliance with the law.

“Our company takes great pride on the proactive steps we have taken in recent years as an industry leader in shopping equality,” the spokesperson said. “In fact, we sponsored a first-ever symposium hosted last fall at John Jay College by the Retail Council of New York State to discuss how all retailers can improve the shopping experience across all segments of the population.”

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