Shopping for EQUALITY

Tired of racism in retail, black shoppers are starting to speak up, and the industry is being forced to listen

by Spiegel, liable for false imprisonment, negligent supervision of the security guards and defamation of Jackson. Both Dillard’s and Bauer are appealing the courts’ decisions.

“The jury said that what the police officer did was wrong but that Eddie Bauer did not discriminate,” explains David Hiatt, vice president of corporate affairs at Eddie Bauer in Redmond, Washington. “But they hit us with punitive damages, meaning that we acted with malice. That doesn’t jibe with the part of the verdict that says we didn’t discriminate.”

“Punitive damages are meant to punish and deter similar conduct,” says Jackson’s lawyer, Donald M. Temple in Washington, D.C. “A $1 million verdict is an appropriate slap for a $2 billion corporation,” he says of Bauer’s decision to appeal. “People don’t realize how offensive it is for black consumers to experience this commercial apartheid.”

Paul Shroeder, general counsel for Dillard’s Inc. in Little Rock, Arkansas, denies that race was a factor. “We are appealing the court’s decision to let the case go forward when they already ruled that the officer had reasonable cause to stop the party,” he says.

The verdicts may be wrapped in technicalities, but the million-dollar awards speak loud and clear: businesses that don’t consider the rights of African American customers will literally be forced to pay for it.
“We asked for $56,000 in compensatory damages for the injustice and $1 million in punitive damages to send a message to retailers nationwide that this won’t be tolerated,” says Hampton’s lawyer, Kathy D. Finnell of Benson & Associates in Kansas City, Missouri. “What’s going to bring about change is not the monetary settlements, which have a shock value, but the public outrage.”

You’d think that with the growing affluence of the African American market, perhaps retailers would want to make sure their employees treated blacks with the same respect afforded to the general population. After all, statistics, such as those from a 1995 Yankelovich Partners survey of 1,000 blacks and 4,000 whites ages 16 and older, show that blacks are more likely than whites to patronize upscale stores. Forty-one percent of blacks (vs. 32% of whites) say they shop at department stores at least once a month; 30% of blacks (vs. 19% of whites) shop at specialty stores. The survey also found that six in 10 African Americans find it fun and exciting to shop for clothes. It sounds like a retailer’s dream.

In fact, black households spend more on such items as hosiery, women’s accessories, footwear, and infants’ and men’s accessories than the average household, according to a 1994 Consumer Expenditure Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A 1996 study by Market Segment Research and Consulting Inc. says that big-selling athletic items like basketball sneakers are purchased more frequently by blacks (41%) in a 12-month period than whites (24%). Blacks also own more TVs, VCRs and CD players than nonblacks.

What’s more, the total money income for African Americans is projected to reach $459 billion in 1998, according to BLACK ENTERPRISE Board of Economists’ member

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