The CEO of luxury department store Barneys New York apologized and said the store has hired civil rights experts after two black customers said they were stopped by police after making expensive purchases.
Mark Lee said in a statement Thursday that that "no customer should have the unacceptable experience" of being accosted by police after making a purchase at the store, NBC News 4 New York reported.
Lee said the store has hired Michael Yaki, who serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to lead a review of fairness and equality practices, News 4 reported.
Lee's comments came as a civil rights organization demanded a meeting with him and threatened to picket the store over the customers' allegations.
Trayon Christian, 19, of Queens said after he bought a $349 Ferragamo belt on April 29 he was handcuffed and detained for two hours before being released with no charges. He filed a discrimination lawsuit against Barneys and the New York City Police Department on Monday.
Undercover police swarmed Kayla Phillips, 21, of Brooklyn at a subway station and demanded to see her credit card after she left Barneys with her purchase of a $2,500 Celine purse on Feb. 28, said her lawyer, Kareem Vessup.
Phillips, a nursing student, had received a tax return and decided to splurge on the designer purse, Vessup said.
She filed notice of an upcoming lawsuit against the NYPD and plans to sue Barneys, he said.
In his lawsuit, Christian, a mechanical engineering student, said when he bought the belt, Barneys telephoned police to report a criminal act. When he stepped out of the store with his shopping bag, he was handcuffed on the sidewalk and brought to the 19th Precinct, the lawsuit said.
Police interrogated him "as to how a young black man such as himself could afford to purchase such an expensive belt and that the debit card he had in his possession had to be fake," the lawsuit said.
Michael Palillo, a lawyer representing Christian, said his client had saved up earnings from a work-study program at New York City College of Technology and was excited to treat himself to a trendy belt he'd admired on some of the rappers he follows on television.
"He enjoys fashion," Palillo said.
The racial profiling incident violated his civil rights, said the lawsuit, which was filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan and seeks unspecified damages.
Meanwhile, fans of hip-hop star Jay Z want him to withdraw from his planned holiday collection partnership with Barneys over the incident. A Change.org petition calling for the cancellation had collected 2,000 signatures as of Friday.
Barneys on its Facebook page said "no employee of Barneys" was involved and it "has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights."
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
National Action Network, a civil rights group led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, said it was mobilizing activists to take direct action against the store and the NYPD.
"National Action Network will immediately demand a meeting with the Barneys New York CEO," NAN spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger said in a statement.
The group is "planning to picket the store if the pattern of racial profiling is not immediately rectified after numerous incidents of discrimination have come to light," Noerdlinger said.
The incidents came to light little more than two months after a judge ruled the NYPD discriminated against black and Hispanic youths in its controversial stop-and-frisk crime fighting tactic.
On its website, Barneys describes itself as "... a mecca for discerning fashionistas and clothing connoisseurs since 1923" and quotes "Sex and the City" actress Sarah Jessica Parker as telling Vanity Fair, "If you're a nice person and you work hard, you get to go shopping at Barneys. It's the decadent reward."
Reuters' Luke Swiderski and NBC News 4 New York contributed to this report.
First published October 25 2013, 9:46 AM