"Treme" actor pursues class-action profiling lawsuit vs Macy's

HBO'sFRED PROUSER / Reuters file

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NEW YORK — Actor Rob Brown, from the HBO show "Treme," sought to broaden his racial profiling lawsuit against Macy's on Wednesday into a federal class-action lawsuit, with his lawyer saying Brown hoped to use his celebrity for "social change." 

Brown withdrew the lawsuit he filed last month in New York State Supreme Court against the department store and the New York City Police Department and, instead, filed it with the U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan seeking class-action status. 

A federal judge must decide whether to grant the lawsuit class-action status. 

Brown said undercover police handcuffed him and put him in a cell at Macy's Manhattan flagship store in June after an employee there accused him of credit card fraud. 

The employee and the police, he said, could not believe that Brown, as a young, black man, could afford to buy a $1,300 watch and some sunglasses without stealing someone else's card. 

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The lawsuit says that after realizing their mistake, the police officers apologetically offered to escort him to his next destination in a police car with flashing lights. 

"If he wasn't Rob Brown, the actor, and he was just some person of color off the street, he would have been kept there, handed over to the police and charged with a crime he didn't commit and put into the criminal justice system," said Brown's lawyer, Douglas Wigdor. 

"So, he feels strongly now that he has the ability to create substantial change and help other people," Wigdor said. 

Both Macy's and the police have denied wrongdoing. Nonetheless, Macy's President Terry Lundgren and top executives from other retailers facing similar complaints have met with the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders to discuss the issue. 

New York City's Law Department, which handles lawsuits against the police department, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Macy's said it cannot comment on pending lawsuits. But in October, the department store said it takes Brown's accusations "very seriously" and had started its own investigation into the incident. 

New York state's attorney general started an investigation of Macy's and Barneys New York last month over complaints by black customers.

Brown filed two lawsuits on behalf of all "innocent Black, Hispanic, Asian and other non-White shoppers" falsely targeted for theft by the retailer and by police officers based on their race or ethnicity, according to court papers. 

He asks the court to order Macy's and the police to change their practices and pay unspecified damages. 

In 2005, Macy's paid $600,000 to settle claims that many of the chain's New York stores had profiled customers based on race and handcuffed and detain those suspected of shoplifting.