NEW YORK, N.Y. - Civil rights activist Al Sharpton met with the CEO of Barneys New York on Tuesday to discuss allegations of racial profiling after two black customers said they lawfully purchased items at the high-end retailer but were detained by police.
The New York state attorney general's office demanded its own meeting with Barneys and also Macy's, where a black actor said he was stopped because of his race while shopping.
Two customers accused Barneys of discrimination last week after they said they had lawfully purchased items but were detained by police on suspicion of credit card fraud.
"We had a very candid and open meeting today to begin a dialogue," Sharpton said after the private meeting with Barneys CEO Mark Lee at Sharpton's National Action Network office in Harlem.
The issue of racial profiling in stores has received much attention over the years. Oprah Winfrey complained recently that a Swiss clerk did not think she could afford a $38,000 handbag, and even President Barack Obama has said he was once followed in stores.
Lee said Barneys' own initial investigation showed no employees were at fault in the two incidents, but he said the retailer does not tolerate discrimination and wants "to be part of the solution" to racial profiling.
In a lawsuit filed last week, 19-year-old Trayon Christian said that after he bought a Ferragamo belt at Barneys New York, he was accosted by undercover city police officers. He was arrested and detained, though he showed police the receipt, the debit card he used and identification, the lawsuit said.
After Christian's lawsuit was filed, another black Barneys shopper said she was accused of fraud after purchasing a $2,500 handbag, and the black actor Robert Brown said he was paraded through Macy's in handcuffs and detained for an hour after being falsely accused of credit card fraud.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office sent letters to the executives at both Barneys New York and Macy's East noting that racial discrimination in places of public accommodation including stores is prohibited under state and local civil rights law. The letters dated Monday asked executives at both stores to call the attorney general's office to schedule meetings.
Speaking Tuesday in Buffalo, Schneiderman said, "We're now demanding information from Barneys and Macy's to assess their policies and their conduct in this regard." He added, "Apparently there was some sort of policy in the stores and in some part of the NYPD to profile certain types of customers."
Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan said in a statement: "We have received the Attorney General's letter and are fully co-operating with the request."
Lee said Barneys would "co-operate fully" with the attorney general.
"Our preliminary investigation has concluded that in both of these instances no one from Barneys New York raised any issue with these purchases," Lee said. "No one from Barneys brought them to the attention of our internal security, and no one from Barneys reached out to external authorities."
Lee deflected questions about whether he was suggesting that police acted on their own to detain the customers.
The police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Lee's remarks.
Lee also alluded to Barneys' relationship with rap mogul Jay-Z, who has faced pressure to distance himself from the retailer since the profiling allegations surfaced.
"We deeply regret that these recent events have distracted from the great work of the Shawn Carter Foundation, and we offer our sincere apologies to Mr. Carter," Lee said, using the entertainer's real name.
An online petition and Twitter messages from fans have called on Jay-Z to bow out of his partnership with Barneys, which will have the store selling items by top designers, inspired by Jay-Z, with some of the proceeds going to his charity. Jay-Z said Saturday he was waiting to hear all the facts.
Associated Press writers Michael Virtanen and Jesse Washington contributed to this report.
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