Four former employees of CVS Pharmacy filed a lawsuit against the company Wednesday, alleging that managers racially profiled shoppers and used racist slurs against minority workers. The suit was filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, New York, by the "store detectives," better known as “market investigators,” who were ordered to track black and Hispanic shoppers.
The detectives, who are either black or Hispanic by race, were fired after they complained of racial discrimination against customers and themselves.
Anthony Salvatore, one of the supervisors, often told employees that “black people always are the ones that are the thieves,” and that “lots of Hispanic people steal,” the New York Times reported, citing the suit. Another supervisor Abdul Selene had reportedly advised the four to “watch the black and Hispanic people to catch more cases.”
The lawsuit also said, according to Reuters, that the store's supervisors “would give these directions even when there was no indication the black shopper was going to steal anything, and would never give such directions with regard to white shoppers."
According to the suit, when Kerth Pollack, one of the plaintiffs, entered into an argument with a store supervisor, Salvatore called him and ordered him to “get his black ass back to the store and apologize,” the Times reported.
A report by the New York Daily News identified the other three plaintiffs as Sheree Steele, Delbert Sorhaindo and Lacole Simpson. The report, which cited the lawsuit, said that the store detectives were "directed to follow utterly despicable and racist directives. Specifically, they were repeatedly instructed to intentionally target and racially profile black and Hispanic shoppers."
Pollack, Simpson and Sorhaindo were reportedly fired between February and April, while Steele was not allowed to return to work in July 2013, after she took an approved leave.
The incidents violated the New York Human Rights Law and a comparable city law, which bars employers from racially discriminating against employees, Reuters reported, citing the suit. The plaintiffs are also expected to file a case with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a move that would help them add more claims.
“While there have been many high-profile shop-and-frisk cases filed by customers of large retailers in recent years,” said David E. Gottlieb, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, according to the Times, “this is the first time a group of employees has banded together to provide an inside account and expose the blatant racial profiling policy at one of the largest retailers in the world.”
Maryland-based CVS said it was “shocked” by the allegations and added that it will fight the claims in the lawsuit.
Carolyn Castel, a spokeswoman for CVS, said, according to the Times, that the company has a “firm nondiscrimination policies that it rigorously enforces.” She said: “We serve all communities and we do not tolerate any policy or practice that discriminates against any group.”
Last August, Macy's Inc. had agreed to pay $650,000 to settle racial profiling claims at its Herald Square store in Manhattan between 2007 and 2013. The case was filed by 18 customers stating that the company had detained them for no reason. In the same month, luxury retailer Barneys agreed to cough up $525,000 to settle accusations of racial profiling of customers at its Madison Avenue flagship store.