Washington, DC: Best Buy Co, the nation's largest electronics retailer, is facing new allegations of discrimination and retaliation after recently agreeing to settle a class-action employment discrimination lawsuit for $10 million.
The new lawsuit accuses Best Buy of widespread racial and ethnic customer profiling in the District of Columbia and Virginia. The suit seeks an end to Best Buy's racial profiling practices in addition to compensation for an Arab American Muslim manager who was fired for protesting the practice.
The case was filed on behalf of Todd Abed, a former Best Buy manager. Mr. Abed accuses Best Buy of terminating his 13-year career because he objected to his district office's "Be On the Look Out" policy, or "BOLO."
Under BOLO, Best Buy employees allegedly circulated e-mails among all managers in the region containing images and descriptions of customers suspected of theft, intended to be posted in their respective stores.
According to the complaint, the images and descriptions circulated under BOLO consistently involved racial and ethnic minorities who had done nothing to merit suspicion, accompanied by racially-tinged descriptions such as "bearded Middle Eastern guy who looked shady" or "black ghetto guy."
Abed, a supervisor in charge of loss prevention (e.g., theft), refused to post the discriminatory emails. When this refusal became known to the district staff, they twice denied Abed promotions to General Manager—despite his being the most qualified applicant—and directed Abed's new General Manager to trump up a reason to terminate him, according to the complaint.
The new General Manager, in turn, allegedly told Abed he would create a "paper trail" to have him fired, taunted his religion, sabotaged performance evaluations, placed him under a pretextual disciplinary "Action Plan," and ultimately terminated him for allegedly poor performance.
The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and attorneys' fees and costs. Most importantly, Abed seeks a court order permanently ending Best Buy's customer profiling practices, which he believes continue to this day.
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Last week, my ten-year old son was so excited about the new Switch Mario brothers game coming out on Friday the 15th. Since he had been doing well in school, my husband and I told him he could get an early Xmas present. I pre-purchased the game online at Best Buy.
On Friday afternoon I entered Best Buy in Danbury CT. I was immediately greeted by a staff person at security desk. “Hello, may I help you?”.
“No. Thanks.” I replied, smiled and continued walking inside.
Before picking up the switch game, I decided to do some early Xmas shopping. I barely entered the store and was asked again, if I needed help by another employee. I told him, “I’m here to pick up an online order, but I’d like to browse and shop before I pick it up.”
I stepped away and found Pokémon cards on sale. My kid collects them, so I chose two packs. I turn and noticed what looked to be a plain clothes security guard standing nearby. I assumed he worked there because he didn’t have a cart. He cut his eyes from me, bent over and proceeded to touch items on a display case as if he were organizing them. I also noticed a brown leather holster on his back hip. I wasn’t sure if it were a gun or knife holster. Either way, he made me feel uncomfortable. Security doesn’t always have to ask “May I help you” to intimidate or profile customers. For a moment, I worried I were going to be mugged. Lol!
I ignored him and proceeded to the toy aisle. I took out my cellphone from my purse and began to text a message to my husband. I wanted to let him know where I was and ask if ‘there was anything else he’d like me to pick up or price check while here?’ I turn to find another employee approaching me. “May I help you? “Asked the 3rd employee Interrupting me. Or was he the 4th?
Before I could answer him, I swear!... I turn to see another employee rushing down the toy aisle towards me. At this point, I had two male Best Buy employees on both sides of me, invading my space. They weren’t nearby at an end of an aisle pretending to organize items, like other store employees. They were deliberately invading my space. I couldn’t finish my text message.
The other employee had a strained smile and nodded to the other guy, as if he was back up to assist him. By then it was obvious to me that I was being aggressively racially profiled, the moment I stepped foot inside the store. I couldn’t take four or five paces without an employee rushing over to address me.
Since I had time to spare before my son’s bus arrival at home, I decided to chat them up and test their sincere interest to ‘help me’. I looked at a display of hover skateboards then asked, “Do these still blow up when you charge them?”
“Ah, it depends on the make...” replied the last schmuck who rushed down the aisle as back up to harass me. I allowed him a moment to ramble on about his opinion on the safety or lack thereof on the skateboard. By then the previous guy stepped away, leaving this one to handle me. I sincerely told the guy, “Thanks for your honest input about this thing. Thanks for not just saying yes…its safe, to make a sale. I appreciate it. May I take a photo and do more research on the manufacturer before I decide to buy it?” “Sure.” He replied.
I snap a quick cell photo, say thanks again, and I had to squeeze past him to step away to browse the other toys. He continued to stand there for a moment. Doing nothing but hold his hands behind his back and watch me. I looked at him. Saying nothing and participated in a brief stare off. I considered offering him my purse and merchandise to carry as he followed me. Just something he could do to earn his salary. But he gave me the creeps. I was also getting irritated.
But I knew I had to keep my cool. Some store security expect a person of color to react angrily to their blatant bias. If I had verbally lambasted them for racial profiling and harassing me. They would probably feel justified to have assigned several employees to follow me. Any excuse to get more security to harm me or kick me out. So, I kept my cool. I found them all pathetic.
“Is there anything else I could help you with? He asked me.
“Nope. I just wanna shop some more before picking up my online purchase, thanks.” I reply once again, explaining why I am in the store.
“Okay, if there’s anything else Just let me know,” he said.
I then witnessed him gesture to another worker at the end of the adjacent aisle. He said something unintelligible, then he pointed twice at me. As if to direct someone else to keep tabs on me? At least that’s what I assumed.
I made my way to the next toy aisle. That next employee was legitimately unpacking items. I took my time in that aisle. I finished texting my husband and looking at toys I wasn’t interested in. Just to test how soon another employee would visit me. But deep down, I found it difficult to focus on my Xmas shopping. I was being judged to be a criminal based on my melanin. It didn’t matter that the money I spent there would help pay their salaries. What mattered was that the employees were trained and/or conditioned to assume, that because I was a person of color, that I would be a criminal. It was more of a priority to have surveillance on me, than on any other possible theif in the store stealing anything else.
Prior to my arrival at Best Buy, I was having a good day. By now, five minutes inside, I was depressed and had tears stinging my eyes. I tried to ignore the racists. I wanted to buy something else for my son. I was in there because I deserved to be there as much as any other customer. I had a Best Buy credit card. In the past four years, we had bought several laptops, a fridge, toys, CD’s, a VR headset game, headphones, speakers, GPS, And recently an $800 Dryer with that card…and paid them all off. I had good credit with Best Buy. I am the sort of customer Best Buy needs to avoid filing for chapter eleven. I’m the type of customer they should greet with champagne and wait to be summoned if I need their assistance.
I left the toy aisle then walked pass the gaming displays. I overheard heavy feet running. I turned to find a smiling white guy jogging down from the other end of the store, from the computer areas, to address me. “Hi, can I help you?” he asked out of breath.
By now I translated it as; “Why are you still in here? We don’t care to sell to your kind of folk.”
Instead of screaming at my 5th or 6th or 7th racial profiler, I looked down and pointed at Mario brother stuff toys. I sighed. Realizing that I would not be allowed to be alone in any aisle of the store. This was not a coincidence!
“I’m looking for a Mario toy for my son. I just paid $70 online buying the game here and wanted to add it to his gift.” I say, as if I had to explain again.
Within the past five years, I had been discriminated at Best Buy, CVS, Walmart, local gas stop markets and Sierra Trading. If I shop with and separate from my White husband, to browse at another part of the same store, I am profiled and bothered by employees more than when he shops beside me. Today, I went to Best Buy alone and the bias was obvious.
I bent over to reach for a toy, but the employee blocked me reaching for the stuffed toys to ‘assist’ me. He proceeded to rummage through the toys and located Mario in a bear suit. Apparently, I was not allowed to rummage through the bin to choose for myself. I was being scrutinized for everything I touched to read or exam.
I told him, ‘No’. Ill check online for Mario wearing his usual overalls. Thanks anyway.” The guy showed me a stuffed red Mario brothers hat, or whatever the fuck it was. I told him; “Nah. Our dog Bilbo Baggins would chew it up. Thanks anyway.”
He chuckled, finding the name of my dog amusing. Nice to see I was able to make him smile. Meanwhile, I wondered if he had any ability to understand that he was participating in racist practices and ruining my day.
There were other items and gamer figurines I wanted to exam to buy for my son. But I got the message. I am a person of color, which Best Buy security policies did not respect. I felt discouraged, like I wasn’t allowed to check out the television section, the PC section for a new monitor for my husband. We wanted to buy our kids first cell phone here too. Oh, and I wanted to buy a new remote for the damn VR headset. I also needed to look for a rug shampoo vacuum. I even had to use the bathroom, but feared they’d probably follow me inside there too. I didn’t care to have another store employee make me feel uncomfortable and scrutinize my every move.
By now I felt disgusted. I wanted to pick up the switch game, (that I now regretted purchasing online from here) and just leave. On my way towards the register, I notice an air fry cooker on sale. That’s where my first female employee approached me. “May I help you?”
Actually, it was on sale and it was an item I was looking to purchase that day too. But I didn’t have it in me to give any more of my business to Best Buy. I no longer felt like helping to support all of these employees livelihoods. However, I did ask her, “Are these hard to clean? My husband likes to make buffalo wings. I’d like to get this for him, but not if it’s hard to clean.”
“Well, my sister has one. But she moved and I don’t know if she’s used it…so.” She responded disinterested. “Okayyyyy. I’ll think about it. Thanks.”
I finally made it to the ‘pickup’ register. I provided my driver’s license and receipt from my cell phone. As the cashier woman struggled to scan my phone for the barcode, I looked around behind me.
It occurred to me that I did not get very far into the store. I was not allowed the freedom to browse and shop further than the front mid-section of the store because I was besieged by several employees.
I thought of complaining to a manager. But I shouldn’t have to!
Besides there’s no way I can trust a ‘store manager’ who most likely ordered those little minded employees to follow me.
As the cashier requested the help of two other employees, I was preparing myself for more discrimination. I was expecting some bullshit about the legitimacy of the bar code. I pulled out my best buy credit card for her to confirm if necessary.
As I purchased candy and the Pokémon cards, it ran through my mind that I should probably prepare for more harassment on the way out. I felt my heart racing, imagining the worst-case scenarios.
What would I do if they insisted on wanting to check my purse, even if the alarm did NOT go off? To avoid a police visit and a scene; do I allow them to subject me to more denigration by allowing them to check me and my personal belongings? If I resist and not show my ID, they’ll feel authorized to harm me and arrest me. I wouldn’t make it home in time to get my son from the bus. I do not have a jail record, but they’d start one on me with false accusations. I was so head fucked over several employees casing me in the store. It wasn’t paranoia to expect more discrimination from Best Buy’s - ‘Jim Crow’ store security practices of today. ‘Shopping while black’ would be my crime.
After making my purchases, she did not bag my items. I realized I didn't have a spare shopping bag on me. Only my purse. Before placing items inside I asked, “Will these buzz off if I put them in my bag?”
I ask this of every cashier attendant at every store I go to now. Since Connecticut no longer offers free shopping bags, if I don’t BYOB, I do not always trust them to not remove security sensors. It’s a great law to help save the environment. But another law to allow corrupt store security to ‘stop and frisk’ people of color, ignoring the receipt with proof of purchase.
“No, that’s alright,” The woman at the register replied.
As I put my items into my bag, I noticed her speak into her mini microphone and say something like, “She has emailed receipts”. I assumed that was mentioned so that security need not stop me, to inspect my receipt and items. I was relieved when no alarm went off as I exited the store.
When I made it back to my car, I found my dog Bilbo sitting on the driver’s seat. He jumped into the backseat allowing me to enter and sit behind the wheel. By the time I could start the car, I broke down in tears. That day, Best Buy Store subjected me to racial discrimination leaving me to feel humiliated, dehumanized and needlessly stressed out. I will never patronize Best Buy ever again.
Dear Best Buy Representatives; please stop racially profiling people of color. You’re hurting many innocent customers. You’re also risking losing customers for security practices that go too far.
No longer a Best Buy customer
Posted by Patricia
Today was my son's 12th birthday and wanted a gaming keyboard. We went to Best Buy and I immediately felt as if I was being followed by the salesperson. We were in the aisle were another man had been for sometime. Out of know where a salesman asked do you need assistance. I responded no we just got here and my son has a good idea of what he needs. The salesman kept standing there just watching us and each time my son touched a box; the salesman kep straightening things up. The other guy in the aisle was watching and spoke out to the guy, Excuse me I need assistance. He turned and walked away, so I said sir he needs help. He looks and comes back but kept watching us. Finally I told my son I don't feel comfortable and went walking to the door. I felt the employeesame just watching as we walked out and my son said Mom, why are they acting weird. I said because they think minorities sreal. I told him that our money will not support a company that encourages employees to use racial profiling tactics. We left and won't be back again.
Posted by Quintina Levine
Thank you Shirley Dillard for sharing your experience. These are the type of instances, we need to be made aware of as a community and stand in solidity with each other. OUR DOLLARS MATTER! We have a Facebook page bearing that name specifically for sharing these type encounters. You can request BOYCOTTS or just vent. If we are not treated with respect than they don't deserve businesses. Our numbers are small right now, but we are a new page. Peace & Blessings my sister. ????
Posted by Shirley Dillard
December 7, 2015 I was shopping at Best Buy in Chicago, I picked up two ink jets and walked over to the CD section. I pick up a CD and noticed the prices were different on the CD and the section it was in. I approached a sales person, asked her to help me. She asked me where I got the CD and when I walked two feet away to show her thinking she was right behind me I turned to see she was walking away with the white man who was standing behind me to help him. She walked to the back of the store then in another direction with the customer to continue to help him. I was stunned. I looked in her direction she saw me looking at her and raised her her finger and said she would be with me in a moment. I started to look for a manager when another employee walked up to me asked if he could help me (he was black), I told him what happened, he apologized and said he would get the manager. Shortly after a woman walked up to me and I asked her if she was the manager, she said yes, did not introduce herself, nor did she asked me my name. I told her what happened, that I felt I'd be discriminated against and I didn't like the way I was feeling. She stared at me blankly and asked me if I wanted her to scan the CD for the price. By this time the employee I'd asked to help came back to the area and was sitting at a table with another white customer laughing and talking to her. She look over at me and saw me talking to the manager and said "he just asked me a quick question, I told her I'd asked her a quick question also. By this time I'm feeling sick to my stomach. I asked the manager if she was going to speak to her she said she would do it in private. I asked for her name, number to the corporate office, which she gave me with no apology at all.
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