Ex-Employees Accuse CVS of Racially Profiling Shoppers

3 minute read

Four former CVS employees in New York claim their managers directed them to profile black and Hispanic shoppers, according to a lawsuit filed in federal district court.

The plaintiffs—Lacole Simpson, Sheree Steele, Delbert Sorhaindo and Kerth Pollack—worked as detectives in the Loss Prevention Department at CVS, tasked with preventing shoplifting at CVS stores throughout New York City.

“CVS intentionally targets and racially profiles its Black and Hispanic shoppers based on the highly offensive, discriminatory and ill-founded institutional belief that these minority customers are criminals and thieves,” reads the complaint. The detectives are represented by David Gottlieb, a partner at Wigdor LLP in New York. Three of them worked at CVS for four years, while the fourth was employed there for just a few months.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of other claims against retailers in New York for racially biased treatment of customers. Macy’s and Barneys have both settled allegations of racial profiling from customers in the past year. This case differs from those in that the suit against CVS was filed by employees, not shoppers.

According to the complaint, two managers in the Loss Prevention Department, Anthony Salvatore and Abdul Selene, asked subordinate detectives to “track and follow Black customers, even when there was no indication whatsoever that they were intending to steal.” The managers also allegedly made racist comments about minority shoppers. For example, Salvatore used racist epithets when talking about black customers and told Simpson: “These Black people are always the ones that are the thieves,” according to the complaint.

Selene is accused of telling Steele to follow only black and Hispanic shoppers, saying: “Watch the Black and Hispanic people to catch more cases,” according to the complaint.

The detectives who filed the complaint also say they experienced a “discriminatory environment” created by Salvatore, Steele and managers at CVS stores throughout New York City. Managers used racist language to describe minority employees, such as one manager who told one of the plaintiffs to “hide like a monkey” while trying to avoid detection from customers.

The detectives say they complained to Human Resources and to a CVS manager in charge of New York City’s Loss Prevention Department, but their complaints “went virtually unanswered,” according to the complaint. The complaint also alleges that the detectives were subjected to unlawful retaliation as a result of their complaints to management, including “increased scrutiny, micromanagement, and fabricated performance criticisms.” Three of the plaintiffs were forced to resign from CVS because of the strain of working in the discriminatory environment, they said in the complaint. The fourth was not allowed to return to work after an approved leave.

“CVS Health has firm nondiscrimination policies that it rigorously enforces,” CVS spokeswoman Carolyn Castel wrote in a statement, which did not address the allegations against specific CVS managers. “We serve all communities and we do not tolerate any policy or practice that discriminates against any group. We are shocked by the allegations in this Complaint and we intend to defend against them vigorously.”

Attorney David Gottlieb, who represents the detectives, wrote in an email that he expects the class action lawsuit against CVS to grow. “We expect additional employees and witnesses to come forward as well,” he wrote.

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