if they want to search you, tell them no,” she says.
Make sure that someone in authority is present. “Don’t oppose the guard,” advises Darden. “Immediately request to see the manager, then clearly state your objection and confirm the store’s policy on conducting searches. Make sure that someone in authority supervises the event.”
Know your rights. Kathy Finnell, Hampton’s lawyer, says that the search process can be tricky. “When people are accused, they automatically say, ‘Go ahead, look in my bag.’ But at that point, it’s become a consensual, warrantless search, and by complying you are potentially giving up your civil rights. It’s no longer a forced detention, so there is potentially no false imprisonment claim if you decide to take legal action.”
“If you say no, they should let you go, ask you to come with them [so that their supervisor can take action] or tell you that you are under arrest,” Finnell continues. An arrest can occur only if the officer has probable cause.
Complain up the ladder. “If the section manager doesn’t cooperate, go to his boss,” says Rucker. “Get the attention of higher management. You’re facing a chain of command, and if you make enough noise, action will be taken,” she says.
Record the incident in the customer service department, not just verbally, but in writing, and get a copy of the report for your files. Include your name, address, daytime phone number and date. State only the important details and include exactly where you were and why you were there. Make sure you have the full names of witnesses and culpable store clerks, and the badge numbers of security guards. If you believe the incident was racial, specify that in your complaint, says Finnell. Procedures vary from store to store; you may be referred to another department.
Inform corporate headquarters immediately. Communicate with the person in charge of “customer satisfaction” or “quality assurance,” and send copies to different divisions of the company.
“Write to public relations, the director of communications and the board of directors,” offers Hayes. “If the manager you’ve contacted does not respond, the company’s shareholders may want to discuss it.”
Add consumer organizations to your mailing list when you write letters, and ask for their assistance. Although there’s no national clearinghouse for consumer racism cases, the Commission on Human Rights in most states is equipped to investigate. Also contact your attorney general’s office. Check local listings for info. (See sidebar “Consumer Resource Directory.”)
“If you don’t file complaints, then the business gets away with it. The more lawsuits and publicity that are brought forth, the less likely they’ll do it to the next person,” says Mary Frances Berry, chairperson of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Ask questions to clarify the behavior of store personnel. If you’re unsure if you’ve been violated, ask to see the store policy in writing. Some policies are posted; the exact location is regulated by law and varies by jurisdiction. Then ask the clerk specific questions, such as, “Where does it say that I need five