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Lawsuit accuses CVS of company-mandated racism

CVS Health claims to have a commitment to wellness, but according to a recent lawsuit the Rhode Island based company also had a commitment to institutionalized racism: A class-action lawsuit filed by black and Hispanic former “store detectives” alleges that CVS management required them to racially profile minority customers, and subjected minority employees to racial slurs.

“(Supervisors) would give these directions even when there was no indication the black shopper was going to steal anything, and would never give such directions with regard to white shoppers,” the lawsuit said.

The suit was filed Wednesday in Manhattan, where the alleged misconduct took place. In addition to the company, several managers are named as defendants. A spokesperson for CVS Health told Reuters that they were shocked by the allegations and intended to fight them.

“We serve all communities and we do not tolerate any policy or practice that discriminates against any group,” she said.

The four plaintiffs also allege that they were addressed with racial slurs, and were fired for complaining about the discrimination. If true, the actions would likely be a violation of the New York Human Rights Law, as well a similar law in New York City intended to curb racial discrimination by employers. The lawsuit hinted that further claims would be added following a filing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The four plaintiffs worked as “store detectives” in CVS stores as part of the loss prevention department, which retailers charge with curtailing theft. Typically, these employees roam retail stores in plain clothes, using training to identify signs of potential shoplifting. According to the plaintiffs (all of whom are black or Hispanic), their training amounted to “keep your eye on the black guy.”

The New York Times reports that the lawsuit claims that one of the defendants, Anthony Salvatore, routinely told subordinates that “black people always are the ones that are the thieves,” and that “lots of Hispanic people steal.” Another advised employees to watch black and Hispanic shoppers in order to “catch more cases,” indicating that they may have been uperating under a quota system.

“While there have been many high-profile shop-and-frisk cases filed by customers of large retailers in recent years,” David E. Gottlieb, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told the New York Times, “this is the first time a group of employees has banded together to provide an inside account and expose the blatant racial profiling policy at one of the largest retailers in the world.”