Barneys New York hires civil rights pro amid discrimination claims

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 25, 2013 6:32 PM

(Reuters) - Barneys New York hired an anti-discrimination expert and agreed to have its chief executive meet with a civil rights group following allegations that the luxury store racially profiled black customers, a spokeswoman said on Friday.

Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network demanded the sitdown with CEO Mark Lee, scheduled for early next week, after two black customers said they were stopped by police and questioned about expensive purchases they made at the Manhattan store.

"I felt helpless, confused, demeaned, humiliated and embarrassed," Kayla Phillips, 21, a nursing student from Brooklyn, told reporters at a press conference on Friday.

Phillips said she was surrounded by four undercover officers outside the subway in February after purchasing a $2,500 Celine handbag. She has filed notice she plans to sue the New York City Police Department and she intends to sue Barneys too, her lawyer said.

In a lawsuit against both the NYPD and Barneys, Trayon Christian, 19, a technical college student from Queens, said he was handcuffed and detained by police for two hours in April after buying a $349 Ferragamo belt.

Barneys posted an apology on its Facebook page late on Thursday and said it was taking steps to address the allegations, including hiring civil rights attorney Michael Yaki of San Francisco, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to review the store's practices and procedures.

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"Barneys New York believes that no customer should have the unacceptable experience described in recent media reports, and we offer our most sincere regret and deepest apologies," Lee said on Facebook.

Sharpton's advocacy group is holding a rally in New York on Saturday to address several issues, including allegations of racial profiling at Barneys, Sharpton said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Luke Swiderski; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)