Lawsuit Claims Dillard's Used Racial Profiling to Fight Shoplifting

A new lawsuit accuses department-store chain Dillard's Inc. of engaging in racial profiling in efforts to thwart shoplifters.

Eight plaintiffs sued the company in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, saying it wrongfully accused black customers of shoplifting at stores in Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida.

The suit alleges Dillard's employees or security workers questioned the plaintiffs when they were in the stores and accused them of stealing merchandise.

The office of Dillard's general counsel refused to comment Friday on the suit, which was filed Monday.

Dating back to the 1990s, Dillard's has been the target of lawsuits that alleged the company discriminated against blacks. The suits alleged black customers were unreasonably searched, questioned or denied service at stores across the South. Dillard's has denied those allegations.

In one complaint, a Texas jury in 2001 awarded about $800,000 to the family of a black man who died after being hogtied during a confrontation with security and police at a Dillard's store. Jurors held Dillard's liable, while clearing the city of Houston and its police.

In another case, Dillard's was ordered to pay a $1.2 million verdict to a black woman who was detained for shoplifting in a store in Overland Park, Kan. Paula Hampton had just bought an Easter outfit for her niece's 1-year-old son and was redeeming a coupon for men's cologne samples when the guard interrupted the transaction.

Earlier this year, Dillard's was the target of a federal class-action suit that accused its hair salons of using a dual pricing system, one for blacks and another for whites and similar groups. An Alabama woman said a Dillard's in Tuscaloosa charged her $35 to have her hair washed and set, while white customers were charged $20 for the same service. That case is pending in U.S. District Court in Birmingham.

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