Black Engineer Seeks $50K Damages After Jewelry Store Wrongfully Accuses Her of Stealing Earrings

A Black woman who was removed from a plane and falsely accused of stealing earrings from a Swarovksi jewelry store in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport two years ago finally will get to stand up to her accuser in court.

Court documents obtained by Atlanta Black Star show Mariam Aromashodu was one of three customers in the small airport store when a clerk reported earrings missing in July 2019. The other two customers were white.

Aromashodu purchased a pair of earrings for her daughter and paid the same clerk, Laura Wilkins. However, Wilkins told police Aromashodu stole other earrings in the store.

The engineer, who was reportedly heading to Florida from a job in North Dakota, said she had to seek counseling after the incident. When airport police pulled Aromashodu, who was wearing a hijab, from the plane, she showed them a receipt for the earrings she had purchased. They took Aromashodu to the store, where they concluded that she did not commit the theft.

Close-up shot of modern diamond earrings. (Photo: Getty Images/panithan pholpanichrassamee)

Wilkins gave different accounts of how she discovered the missing earrings and “how she conducted her investigation, if any,” court documents show.

Aromashodu initially filed a lawsuit against Wilkins, Stellar Partners, Airport Retail Group and the corporate retail entities that owned the Swarovski brand in October 2020, but she later dismissed corporations from the case. The Black engineer, who is Muslim, alleged racial and religious discrimination, defamation per se, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. However, a district court dismissed Aromashodu’s claim.

The lower court ruled that Aromashodu did not prove Wilkins’ actions were discriminatory or her negligent and emotional distress claims. The clerk’s statement to police was also exempted from defamation claims. However, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Aromashodu could proceed with the civil suit.

Aromashodu did not appeal her intentional infliction of emotional distress false imprisonment claims, court documents show. However, the appellate court agreed that the engineer is a member of a protected class because she is Black and Muslim. The court also agreed that she was treated differently from the white people in the 440-square-foot store.

Court documents show that Wilkins had shown Aromashodu three sets of earrings from an unlocked “self-service spinner” and how she could “pop out a box” on her own and look at others. Aromashodu made several trips between the counter where Wilkins laid out the pair of earrings and the spinner.

After deciding on the earrings she wanted to buy for her daughter, she returned the other pairs of earrings to the spinner, where one of the white customers stood. At that time, Wilkins had left the counter to assist the third customer, court documents show. When the clerk returned, Aromashodu paid for the earrings and left.

Wilkins realized after that earrings were missing from the spinner. She called the airport police and reported the theft. When Aromashodu returned to the store with the police, Wilkins’ manager and another supervisor had arrived. The manager found and paid for a new flight to get home when she was cleared.

The appeals court concluded that Wilkins treated the Black woman differently because she never questioned the white customers in the store. Wilkins never saw who stole the earrings but automatically accused Aromashodu of theft.

The clerk told police that Aromashodu bought something from the store but told the Airport Retail Group that she had not purchased anything. She first testified that she did not search the store for the earrings but realized they were missing because they weren’t in the spinner. But then later she testified that she searched the entire store for the earrings.

Wilkins also gave conflicting information about how many pairs of earrings were missing. She also said she did not realize there were two white customers in the store until she saw the surveillance footage, but Wilkins’ manager said the cameras in the store were not working that day. The earrings were never found, according to court documents.

“These inconsistencies explicitly noted by the police as a reason why they abandoned the theft investigation are indirect evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that Wilkens reported Aromashodu to the police because of her protected status and not for any non-discriminatory reason,” appellate court Judge Jennifer Frisch wrote.

The court also ruled since Aromashodu was able to prove a case of discrimination, Wilkins’ statements to police were no longer considered qualified privilege and the Black engineer could also pursue her defamation claim. Aromashodu is seeking $50,000 in da

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