A judge has ordered Macy’s to immediately quit detaining and fining people suspected of shoplifting. A class action lawsuit claims that Macy’s detained at least two women suspected of shoplifting in holding cells for hours in the basement of the chain’s flagship in New York. Both women were forced to pay the store while in detention, a practice known as “civil recovery,” then turned over the NYPD and criminally charged.
The Guardian reports that a judge has ruled that Macy’s has no right to detain people after they’ve completed an internal investigation, and certainly no right to, in essence, force them to pay a ransom in order to leave. The class action against the company was brought by a woman named Cinthia Carolina Reyes Orellana, who says she was detained after carrying some clothes between floors. From DNAInfo:
Over the next three hours, she was searched, questioned, denied access to her phone to contact a lawyer or her family and ordered to admit her guilt by signing legal papers and forced to pay a $100 fine in cash before the security staff turned her over to the NYPD, according to the suit.
Macy’s then continued to harass her via mail, demanding additional fines even after the initial fee, in what her lawyer describes as a continuing policy by Macy’s to shake down minority customers.
That incident happened in 2014, after a series of racist incidents against customers of color embarrassed the store. That was the same year the company had to pay $650,000 to the New York State Attorney General to settle charges of unlawful racial discrimination and detention against non-white customers, who were detained despite not having stolen anything. Customers who spoke limited English said they were denied access to translators, forced to sign “trespass notices” or confessions they didn’t understand, and other pseudo-judicial practices that we do not, in this country, undertake in the basements of department stores.
And then, allegedly, it happened again: Samya Moftah told the Guardian she went to Macy’s last summer carrying a bag from JC Penney and a bag from a previous purchase at Macy’s. She planned to exchange some items for her kids. Instead, she says, she was pulled aside, taken to an office, had her phone and purse taken, and her body patted down, including her private areas. She alleges in an affidavit that one of the employees referred to her hijab, saying “See what’s under the scarf.”
Moftah says she pleaded with the employees to check her receipts. Instead, per the newspaper:
The manager approached her with documents, and told her to sign them repeatedly and pay $100 in order to go home. Moftah hadn’t eaten all day – it was Ramadan. When she began to cry, she was threatened with handcuffs and taunted for stealing during Ramadan and being Muslim, according to her affidavit. The Macy’s manager returned and told her the new price to go home would be $500. When she refused to do so, her credit card was removed from her wallet and charged for the full amount.
In both Moftah and Orellana’s cases, the NYPD showed up to arrest them once Macy’s was through with their in-store inquisition. Both women’s charges were eventually dismissed.
Judge Manuel Mendez ordered Macy’s to cut it out, saying the law only allows customers to be detained while an investigation is taking place. He also enjoined the store from “demanding, requesting, collecting, receiving, or accepting any payments” from people in their “custody.”
A Macy’s spokesperson told the Guardian that they aren’t doing “civil recovery” anymore:
Jim Sluzewski, senior vice-president of corporate communications and external affairs at Macy’s, said that the practice of civil recovery ended in fall 2015. “The preliminary injunction relates to in-store civil recovery, a practice that Macy’s had previously discontinued nationwide. Given that this is a matter in active litigation, we do not have further comment to make,” he replied in a statement. Macy’s attorneys from Palmer, Reifler and Associates PA did not reply for comment.
Macy’s reportedly detained more than 6,000 people in one year in New York state alone. The legal team representing Orellana says they believe the number nationwide is “significantly higher.”
This post has been updated with comment from the attorneys representing Orellana and Moftah about the number of people they believe to have been detained nationwide.
Photo via AP