Barneys Apologizes After Media Firestorm, Hires Civil Rights Expert

Barneys_30busAfter two Black shoppers this week accused Barneys New York of racial profiling, the CEO Mark Lee issued an apology Thursday, saying the high-end department store has “zero tolerance for any form of discrimination.”

Lee also announced that the store had secured the expertise of Michael Yaki, who is currently serving his second term as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  Lee said Yaki will assist Barneys in undergoing a review of its practices “to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality.”  The store has also initiated a dialogue with “community leaders, he said.

The accusations at the center of the media frenzy were made by Trayon Christian of Queens and Kayla Phillips of Brooklyn. Both accused the store of racial profiling in separate incidents this year.

On Monday Christian, 19, filed a lawsuit against Barneys and the New York City Police Department stemming from his purchase of a $350 Salvatore Ferragamo belt in April.

The teen, who was a student and employee of New York City College of Technology, said he had been saving his earnings to purchase the belt. After he left the store, he was stopped by two plainclothes officers who claimed his purchase was made fraudulently with his Chase Bank debit card  Although he produced identification, the receipt and the card in question, Christian was arrested and taken to a local police precinct. He was interrogated and held for two hours.

According to the lawsuit, he “was told that his identification was false and that he could not afford to make such an expensive purchase.”

He was released  with no charge after his debit card and identity were verified.

Media reports of the lawsuit caught the attention of Phillips, a 21-year old nursing student who said she experienced similar treatment. Just after her February purchase of a $2500 Céline handbag at Barneys New York, four plainclothes officers approached her.

As with Christian, Phillips was asked how she could afford such a purchase, and had to produce her identification, receipt and form of payment. She has now filed a $5 million notice of claim with the city showing her intention to sue the NYPD.

On Wednesday afternoon the store released a statement denying involvement in Christian’s case. A spokesperson stated, “It is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale.”

A day later, Barneys issued the CEO’s statement.

“Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination. We are a strong proponent of equal rights and equal treatment for all human beings.”  Lee said. “No customer should have the unacceptable experience” as highlighted in news reports this week.

Jay Z is scheduled to participate in a holiday campaign with Barneys, but if the media and concerned citizens have their way, it won’t happen.

A petition on is calling for action, urging Jay Z to end all partnerships with Barneys. The petition reads in part: “We can no longer tolerate blatant prejudice and discrimination. It is clear that the minority buying power is devalued by some. We must withdraw support to those who will not support us.”

The New York Police Department is awaiting more details before responding publicly to the lawsuit. Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city takes every complaint seriously.

Kirsten John Foy, president of the Brooklyn chapter of the National Action Network, met with Lee Thursday. NAN, a civil rights group headed by Reverend Al Sharpton, has plans to meet with the Barneys CEO again next week. The group warned it would picket the store if it continues with alleged racial profiling.


Back to top