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NY attorney general investigating racial profiling claims at Macy's, Barneys' Manhattan locations

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New York’s attorney general is investigating allegations of racial profiling at Macy’s and Barneys’ flagship Manhattan locations after at least three black customers recently accused the stores and police of harassing them.

Rob Brown, star of the HBO show “Treme,” filed a lawsuit last week alleging he was detained after buying an expensive watch for his mother at Macy’s Herald Square because he is black. Macy’s said it had no involvement in his detention or questioning, and said the stop was a New York police matter.

Also last week, two customers accused the NYPD and Barneys of racial profiling after they said they were detained by police on suspicion of credit card fraud after lawfully purchasing expensive items from the Fifth Avenue store.

In letters sent to both stores Monday, Kristen Clarke, chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, reiterated that state and local laws prohibit “racial discrimination in places of public accommodation.” The letter asked each store to submit its policies on stopping and detaining customers, the number of customer stop-and-frisks broken down by race over the past year and all discrimination complaints filed by customers in that time.

In her letter to Macy’s, Clarke wrote that the recent allegations were “particularly troublesome” in the wake of a federal bias lawsuit the attorney general’s office brought against the Herald Square store in 2005 that accused it of profiling customers based on race. As part of its settlement in that case, Macy’s denied wrongdoing but agreed to refrain from racial profiling of customers.

The Cincinnati-based retailer said in a statement that Macy’s permitted the New York City Police Department, at its request, to use a room in the store to question Brown, but Macy’s employees were not involved in the June 8 incident.

The retailer “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, including racial profiling,” and is cooperating “fully with the courts and the New York City Police Department, with which we have a close and important working relationship,” the statement said.

“If Macy’s policies are found to have been violated, we will take swift and decisive action.”

For its part, Barneys said it hired a civil rights expert to review its procedures and practices after the bias claims were filed against its Fifth Avenue location this week. Barneys New York CEO Mark Lee also apologized in a statement, saying “no customer should have the unacceptable experience” of being accosted by police after making a purchase.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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