updated 10/10/2006 8:54:37 PM ET 2006-10-11T00:54:37

The Reno-Sparks chapter of the NAACP says it will conduct a review of Walgreens local business practices affecting minorities after four black men filed a discrimination lawsuit against the drug store chain.

Leaders of the local advocacy group said the action approved by its membership last week is the first step toward determining whether they will ask the national NAACP to consider a nationwide boycott of Walgreen Co.

The review will involve submitting a questionnaire to the local store just north of the downtown Reno casino district where the alleged discrimination occurred in 2003.

It is not specifically related to that incident but was launched at the request of one of the plaintiffs in that pending lawsuit set to go to trial Feb. 5 in Washoe County District Court, NAACP leaders said. It will be similar to the inquiry the NAACP makes of businesses in compiling an annual consumer choice guide.

“We’re looking at local practices as they relate to race-related issues. We are going to investigate Walgreens treatment of blacks and minority shoppers, employees and policies and practices with vendors,” said Lonnie Feemster, a longtime civil rights activist and past president of the local NAACP chapter.

“All we can do is look locally at what the store does. We can’t ask specific questions about this case because it is in litigation,” he said.

Bruce Johnson and three other black men from Houston, ages 28 to 42, filed a lawsuit in June 2003 seeking at least $2.5 million each in damages. The four men said that after they complained about the quality of a photograph processed at the store in February 2003, the clerk shouted a racial slur, slammed a door and refused service.

Jeff Pinto, manager of the Reno store, referred questions about business practices to Walgreens headquarters in Deerfield, Ill.

Corporate spokesman Michael Polzin said the company had not been contacted by the NAACP and had no immediate comment.

Feemster advocated approval of the review sought by Johnson partly because Johnson has researched other discrimination lawsuits filed against Walgreens in recent years.

“They presented a tremendous amount of information and put a lot of work into it,” Feemster said.

Previous class-action suit
One class-action suit filed last year in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill., accused Walgreen Co. of racially discriminatory employment practices involving black managers and pharmacists with stores in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Florida, Texas and Michigan.

In another filed last year in federal court in Chicago, three former Walgreens cashiers claimed white supervisors had ordered them to follow black customers the supervisors assumed would steal.

Feemster said the local chapter will review the store polices and forward a packet of information to the national NAACP “to see if merits further investigation by the national office.”

The questions would include such things as the company’s worker diversity, whether the company contributes to local charities and if it does business with black-owned vendors.

Johnson presented his case Thursday night to 22 members of the local NAACP, who voted unanimously to pursue the local investigation.

“People say, ‘Oh, it’s a lawsuit. He just wants money.’ It’s not about that,” Johnson said.

“This isn’t about Bruce Johnson being called the ’N’ word. This is about what Walgreens is doing to people around the country.”

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