In December of 2015, US retail giant Macy’s became the centre of a lawsuit accusing the store's staff of “targeting and imprisoning minority customers in its stores while extorting cash.”
At the time, US news site DNAinfo reported that a woman – Cinthia Carolina Reyes Orellana – had been trying on shirts at Macy’s Herald Square store before being taken into custody.
According to the suit, the 29-year-old had left the changing rooms and began heading to the register to purchase two of the shirts she had tried on. As she came down the escalator, she was grabbed by a security guard. The guard took her purse and forcibly escorted her into a holding cell in the store’s basement. Cinthia claims she was told she was suspected of planning to steal the shirts. She was held for questioning, denied access to her phone and searched for a three-hour period. In order to be handed over to NYPD, Cinthia was ordered to pay a $100 fine and had to sign legal papers admitting her guilt.
The lawsuit against Macy’s, which is being heard in the Manhattan Supreme Court, estimated that over 1000 customers had also been targeted in a similar fashion.
Now, six months later, the latest allegations in the suit reflect a similar experience.
The filing says in July 2015, Samya Moftah – a woman of Egyptian-American decent – was taken into custody by Macy’s after she went to exchange some shirts.
After not finding the sizes she needed, Samya decided to keep the shirts and also purchase five more. After going through the register and heading to the exit, a Macy’s employee grabbed her and escorted her into an office.
The lawsuit states she was then taken by two more employees into a cell. In the filing Samya claims: “One of the female employees told [the other employee] in a mocking tone to, 'see what is under that scarf!' referring to the hijab I was wearing on my head.”
The court documents state Samya was held for five hours, before being made to sign documents without reading them and being told to pay $500 (a fee which she was originally told was only $100).
Once Samya paid the fine, she was taken to the police station where she was charged with petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.
These charges were dismissed in March and two months later, Samya’s attorney sought to make her a plaintiff in the ongoing suit, alongside Cinthia.
A policy on Macy's website states that: “A person may be detained only in a reasonable manner and for not more than a reasonable time to permit investigation or questioning, provided an authorized employee has reasonable grounds to believe that the person so detained was guilty of criminal possession of an anti-security item or was committing or attempting to commit shoplifting on the premises.” Further, this is covered by US Business Law Statute.
However, what Macy's seems to be interpreting as "reasonable" here, looks to be largely skewed.
On Monday, State Supreme Court Justice, Manuel J. Mendez, granted the lawsuit’s request for a preliminary injunction barring Macy’s from requesting, collecting or accepting payment from customers while they are detained under suspicion of shoplifting.
“A suspected shoplifter is given no opportunity to otherwise object, have a hearing, or receive guidance from counsel before signing a confession to shoplifting, and/or agreeing to pay civil penalties because the civil penalties are being demanded at the time the individual is under detention by Macy’s,” the judge said.
In 2014, Macy’s was made to pay New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, $650,000 to settle over a dozen complaints of profiling and false detention in the Herald Square Store.