Pedestrians cross the street in front of the Macy's Inc. flagship store in New York City on Aug. 6, 2014.
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By Tessa Berenson
Updated: December 3, 2015 2:23 PM ET

Macy’s is being sued for its treatment of minority customers, in a suit that alleges the store has a “coercive collection practice” of holding minority shoppers and forcing them to pay fines.

The plaintiff in the suit, Cinthia Carolina Reyes Orellana, says she was shopping at Macy’s in New York City last year when she was taken by a security guard to a holding cell, accused to trying to steal shirts and questioned for three hours. According to DNAinfo, Orellana was not allowed access to her phone to contact her family or a lawyer, was forced to sign legal papers admitting her guilt and had to pay a $100 fine in cash before she was turned over to the police.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in November in Bronx Supreme Court, alleges that thousands of other minority customers have been shaken down by Macy’s in a similar way, under a law that allows retailers to fine customers they believe have tried to shoplift without proving them guilty.

“This coercive collection practice or scheme has become so profitable that Macy’s … has dedicated an entire unit within its existing store, which operates like a typical jail, equipped with holding cells, where alleged shoplifters are held for hours on end, and are pressured, threatened, and often harassed until they find no reprieve but to make civil penalty payments to [Macy’s],” the lawsuit says, according to DNAinfo.

Jim Sluzewski, a spokesperson for Macy’s, told TIME that Macy’s rejects the claims of the suit and that the company is in full compliance with the law. “Our company takes great pride on the proactive steps we have taken in recent years as an industry leader in shopping equality,” he wrote in an email. “In fact, we sponsored a first-ever symposium hosted last fall at John Jay College by the Retail Council of New York State to discuss how all retailers can improve the shopping experience across all segments of the population. “

Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com.

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