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Walmart knocked for locking up beauty products for people of color

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Walmart is drawing fire for a policy under which some stores keep personal care items designed for people of color under lock and key. It's not the first time the retailer has faced such criticism, with the increased security given multicultural beauty products for years drawing claims of discrimination against the company.

In Colorado, a Walmart customer was recently distressed to find hair products for textured hair to be inaccessible without finding an employee to unlock them.

"The multicultural hair care is all locked behind the glass. That's so ridiculous," Lauren Epps, a black customer looking to purchase a scarf for her hair, told CBS Denver of her shopping venture to a local Walmart.

The experience was echoed by others on social media, with one person asking in a tweet whether anyone else had noticed that "Walmart first put cameras near the 'ethnic' products before the rest of the beauty products."

Epps also voiced frustration that women with finer hair are allowed to browse and read product descriptions, while she feels pressured to make a quick decision.

"I'm the kind of shopper who needs to look at things, read things. It's awkward because you're forced in the moment to grab it," she told CBS Denver. "People don't realize what we have to go through on a daily basis."

Epps waited for a Walmart employee to unlock the glass case with her scarf, but reportedly left without purchasing the item after discovering that it was packed in an anti-theft box.

"This Walmart is in the heart of Montbello. There are black and brown people all over the place," Epps told CBS Denver of the neighborhood in northeast Denver where she was shopping. "The message is clear: We don't trust you."

Walmart, which has more than 4,700 stores around the U.S., denies its policies target specific groups.

"We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind at Walmart. We serve more than 140 million customers weekly, crossing all demographics, and are focused on meeting their needs while providing the best shopping experience at each store," a Walmart spokesperson told CBS Denver. "We're sensitive to the situation and also understand, like other retailers, that some products such as electronics, automotive, cosmetics and other personal care products are subject to additional security. Those determinations are made on a store-by-store basis."

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Walmart did not immediately return a request for comment by CBS MoneyWatch.

Retailers locking away products geared to African-Americans has spurred petitions calling for an end to the practice, along with litigation. 

California resident Essie Grundy sued Walmart in 2018, accusing the retailer of racial discrimination after multiple visits to a store in Riverside County found "hair and body products meant for African-Americans" locked away, according to her lawsuit. 

In 2019, another female California resident reported feeling singled out after finding black beauty and hair products locked in a glass case at a Walmart store in the city of Riverside.

The group Making Change at Walmart is also calling on the retailer to stop locking up only African American hair products at three stores in Virginia, calling the practice "discriminatory."

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