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Ex-Employees Accuse CVS Of Racial Discrimination Against Customers


The pharmacy chain CVS has been hit with a federal lawsuit. Some former employees claim that CVS stores in New York City are racially profiling black and Latino customers as potential shoplifters. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has more.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Diversity is at the core of the success of CVS, or at least that's what its employees will tell you in this video on the company's website.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Our diversity reflects the communities we serve...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ...To empathize with our customers and patients...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...And create ways to best accommodate their needs.

WANG: But attorney David Gottlieb represents four former CVS employees, who say the company runs on an institutional belief that black and Latino customers are criminals and thieves.

DAVID GOTTLIEB: Their managers directly told them to target black and Hispanic shoppers when looking for shoplifters.

WANG: Gottlieb says his clients worked as store detectives in four separate CVS locations in New York City. Their job was to investigate and prevent shoplifting, sometimes while undercover. And they claim their supervisors and store managers often make comments about customers, like...

GOTTLIEB: These black people are always the ones that are the thieves. That black N-word over there is stealing. Lots of Hispanic people steal.

WANG: Gottlieb's clients, who are African-American and Latino, say their supervisors also directed racial slurs towards them. They reported this to their boss and human resources, according to court documents. But they say nothing changed, and eventually, they either quit their jobs because of the mistreatment or were let go for complaining.

GOTTLIEB: This is an institutional problem at CVS. This was not a situation where there was one individual rogue actor engaging in discriminatory conduct.

WANG: In a written statement, a spokeswoman for CVS says the company is shocked by the allegations and plans to defend against them vigorously. She writes, we do not tolerate any policy or practice that discriminates against any group.

This is the kind of case that Jerome Williams of Rutgers Business School knows well.

JEROME WILLIAMS: Yes, I conduct research on what we call consumer racial profiling and discrimination in retail stores.

WANG: That includes allegations of racial profiling at Barneys and Macy's in New York City back in 2013. Williams says this lawsuit against CVS is unusual because former employees, not customers, are suing the retailer.

WILLIAMS: If you were a customer, many times, it's a case of he said, she said - your word against the word of the sales personnel or the security guard. But when you have the actually employee, that adds more weight and credibility in my opinion.

WANG: This case might not go to trial. Lawsuits against Barneys and Macy's were settled out of court. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
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