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NY Attorney General investigating Barneys, Macy's over allegations of racial profiling

Kayla Phillips says cops were 'very rough' when they shoved her to a wall in subway and accused her of credit card fraud after she bought $2,500 Celine bag at Barneys. Aaron Showalter/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Kayla Phillips says cops were 'very rough' when they shoved her to a wall in subway and accused her of credit card fraud after she bought $2,500 Celine bag at Barneys.
Aaron Showalter/NY Daily News via Getty Images
(CBS) NEW YORK - The New York state attorney general is investigating the policies of Macy's Inc and Barneys New York Inc after several allegations of racial profiling at the high end department stores surfaced recently.

The office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sent letters to the CEO of Barneys New York, Mark Lee, and the CSO of Macy's, Peter Sachse.

In the letters, both stores are asked to turn over their "policies and procedures for stopping, detaining and, questioning" customers, as well as all data and documents pertaining to the "stops and detentions" of customers by Friday, Nov. 1.

"Attorney General Schneiderman is committed to ensuring that all New York residents are afforded equal protection under the law. The alleged repeated conduct of your employees raises troubling questions about your company's commitment to that ideal, and the company's compliance with state and local civil rights laws," Kristen Clarke, who heads the attorney general's civil rights bureau, wrote in the letters.

In the letter to Macy's, Clarke notes that in 2005, the office of the Attorney General brought a federal lawsuit against the retail giant for "precisely this type of misconduct."

"To resolve that lawsuit, Macy's East entered into a court-ordered settlement agreement requiring it not to engage in unlawful racial profiling," the letter reads. "Given this prior settlement agreement, these new allegations are particularly troublesome."

Even before news of Schneiderman's involvement broke, civil rights activist Al Sharpton and community members were scheduled to meet with Mark Lee, CEO of Barneys New York, on Tuesday to discuss the racial profiling allegations. Hazel Dukes, President of the New York chapter of the NAACP, is also expected to be at the meeting.

Last week, two young black customers accused Barneys of racial profiling after they said they were detained by police on suspicion of credit card fraud after lawfully purchasing expensive items.

One of the shoppers has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the store, the city and its police department. Another filed a complaint with the city's police watchdog agency.

Barneys has retained a civil rights expert to lead a review of its policies and procedures and has reached out to community leaders to start a dialogue, the Madison Avenue store announced Thursday. The CEO of the luxury retailer has spoken out and offered his "sincere regret and deepest apologies."

Macy's was also hit with a lawsuit alleging racial profiling last week.

Robert Brown, who stars on the HBO series "Treme," said Friday that he was stopped by police while shopping at Macy's flagship Manhattan store. According to his lawsuit, Brown was detained by police on June 8 after employees contacted authorities about possible credit card fraud.

Macy's didn't comment on the litigation but said in a statement it was investigating the accusations.

The profiling claims also incited criticism on social media and an online petition asking rapper Jay-Z, who is collaborating with Barney's New York for a holiday collection, to disassociate from the store.

  • Iris Carreras

    Iris Carreras covers crime for CBSNews.com

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