An African-American walks into a high-end store and …
Although for many, it sounds like the beginning of an off-color joke. However, the punchline appears to remain the same: Blacks — regardless of social status or income — have continued to encounter racism at stores around the country.
The latest instance: A Versace outlet in Pleasanton, California.
Former employer Christopher Sampiro has filed a lawsuit against the designer for allegedly encouraging its employees to use a code word when African-American customers enter the store.
In court papers, Sampiro alleged that during an employee training, a manager asked if he knew about the “D410 Code,” which happens to be the same code used for black clothing.
The manager alerted Sampiro to the practice that Versace uses a secret code to alert employees when a black customer enters the store; telling him to say “D410” in a casual manner, the filing states.
In court documents, Sampiro, who identifies as one-quarter African-American, said he told the manager, “You know that I’m African-American?” After that response, Sampiro claimed the store’s management treated him differently and did not give him legitimate training.
He was fired after working two weeks because he didn’t “understand luxury” and didn’t “know the luxury life,” Sampiro claimed in the lawsuit which alleges he wasn’t paid for time worked, did not receive rest periods and was wrongfully terminated.
Versace has denied the allegations and company attorneys have vowed to fight the lawsuit.
However, high-end retailers have allegedly practiced discrimination against African-Americans for some time.
Even media mogul Oprah Winfrey fell victim to the practice. During a 2013 trip to Switzerland where she was attending the wedding of music icon Tina Turner, the billionaire talk show queen said an employee refused to show her a $38,000 crocodile skin handbag made by Tom Ford.
The employee told her, “it’s too expensive. … No, no no, you don’t want to see that one, you want to see this one because that one will cost too much and you will not be able to afford that,” Winfrey revealed.
While Winfrey did not identify the shop, it was later revealed to be the high-end boutique, Trois Pomme, whose shop manager told CNN that the incident had nothing to do with racism but was just a misunderstanding.
By midlife, many African-Americans have experienced enough day-to-day forms of mistreatment — being followed around stores or stopped without cause by police — to make them sick: clinically, chronically and even fatally, a Cornell University report said.
The university’s research team in December linked what psychology and sociology investigators call “everyday unfair treatment” with higher incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity and other life-limiting conditions in African-Americans.
“Chronic experiences of discrimination and mistreatment can affect health in the most insidious of ways, both because such experiences can undercut rights and opportunities that may be of vital importance to stigmatized groups and because they have the potential to negate the significance of personal agency and identity in the lives of marginalized individuals,” said Anthony D. Ong, associate professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and lead author of the Cornell study.
Also in December, it was revealed that Conrad Barton and Geneva Gordon went to the high-end store Barneys in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City to return a scarf and an expensive pair of jeans. Barton purchased the jeans for $1,045 and $321 for the scarf in September, according to court filings quoted by the New York Daily News.
While Barton was at Barneys, the clerk disappeared for 15 minutes and then brought back a manager who demanded Barton give his identification. He countered that he didn’t need to give his ID since he had all the necessary documentation for the purchase, the lawsuit noted.
It was then revealed that the “manager” was a loss-prevention officer who refused to give Barton’s purchase and debit card back to him.
Barton then went back to his car and told Gordon what happened. She went inside the store and argued with the officer before a store manager appeared and agreed to make the exchange.
“You’re being stereotyped when you are just following a regular store procedure,” Barton told the Daily News. “It shouldn’t have gone down that route.
“I feel the whole situation was very disheartening and embarrassing and unnecessary,” Gordon said.
The two hired an attorney, who reached out to Barneys attorney Grace Fue. While the store attorney initially explained that they were looking into the incident, she ultimately stopped talking to the couple’s attorney, prompting the two to file their suit.
The incident wasn’t first time Barneys has been accused of targeting African-Americans. In 2014, the store was forced to pay a $525,000 fine when the New York attorney general charged them with racial profiling.
The fine came after a 2013 lawsuit from a 19-year-old black man, Trayon Christian, who was accused of credit card fraud while shopping at the store.
That same year, 21-year-old Kayla Phillips filed a complaint after NYPD officers demanded she turn over her temporary card after she purchased a Céline handbag from Barneys. They also demanded to know where she got the money to purchase the bag as well as the Chanel handbag she was carrying.
The company was required by the attorney general’s office to hire an anti-profiling consultant to help them learn to not racially profile customers.