Barneys Hires Civil Rights Expert Following Racial Discrimination Charges petition sign asking Jay Z to quit his relationship with Barneys New York petition sign asking Jay Z to quit his relationship with Barneys New York

New York—In the wake of a public outcry following alleged incidents of racial discrimination by its sales associates, Barneys New York reported Thursday that it has hire a civil rights expert to review its policies.

Earlier in the week, 19-year-old Trayon Christian, an African American college student from Queens, filed a discrimination suit against Barneys and the New York Police Department. Christian said he had saved up money from his part-time job to buy a $349 Ferragamo belt. When he made the purchase on April 29, a sales associate supposedly reported him to police for fraud. Christian was handcuffed and taken into custody before being released several hours later with no charges. His suit asked for unspecified damages from Barneys and the NYPD.

Another incident was reported by Kayla Phillips, 21, an African American nursing student, of Brooklyn who was stopped and asked to show her credit card following her purchase of a $2,500 Celine handbag at Barneys on Feb. 28. Again, no charges were filed against her and Phillips said she plans to file similar discrimination suits against Barneys and NYPD.

Petition Asks Jay Z to Sever Relationship

While Barneys first declined comment citing pending litigation, the luxury retailer saw its social media outlets inundated with negative comments from consumers.

Then Derick Bowers, a Brooklyn-based father and entrepreneur, started a petition on calling upon Jay Z, who collaborated with Barneys on this year’s “A New York Holiday,” to “several all ties with Barneys” following the two accusations of racial profiling.

“Jay Z should be appalled by Barneys actions, and withdraw all support from them. If he does this, he will send a clear message to all corporations that are likeminded, that this behavior cannot be tolerated any longer,” said Bowers.

A civil right organization asked to meet with Lee over the allegations and even pickets have been threatened outside stores.

Barneys CEO Mark Lee posted an open letter on Barneys’ Facebook page in response to the outcry: “Barneys New York typically does not comment on pending litigation. In this instance, we feel compelled to note that after carefully reviewing the incident of last April, it is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale. Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights.”

Added Lee: “Barneys New York believes that no customer should have the unacceptable experience described in recent media reports, and we offer our sincere regret and deepest apologies.”

Pursuant to the claims, Lee said the retailer is conducting “a thorough review of our practices and procedures” to make sure they reflect fairness and equality. The retailer also hired Michael Yaki, a civil rights expert who served on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a watchdog organization.

As of press time, nearly 500 consumers had posted a response to Lee’s letter on Facebook, most were negative calling Lee’s action too little, too late.


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Jeff Prine

Jeff Prine, Editor at Large, Accessories Magazine
Jeff returns as a regular contributor to Accessories magazine. Initially Jeff worked as senior editor at Accessories more than 20 years ago and his love of the industry has followed him until present. Since his tenure here, Jeff has continued to report jewelry, watch and other luxury goods trends as executive editor at Modern Jeweler magazine, fashion director at Lustre, and as contributor on products and trends for consumer and trade publications and websites. In addition to his editorial experience, Jeff also served as an adjunct instructor for accessories merchandising at Fashion Institute of Technology.