Costco Wholesale Corp. is at the center of a lawsuit filed by an African American Severn couple for $4 million. According to the suit, a manager allegedly “racially discriminated against them when he called the police for a robbery that did not happen.”
Costco Wholesale Corp. is at the center of a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by an African American Severn couple for $4 million. According to the suit, a manager allegedly “racially discriminated against them when he called the police for a robbery that did not happen.” So what happened, exactly? Why were the police called in the first place?
For starters, the incident occurred on May 23, 2018, and involved a 911 call after the couple, Barbara and Bahri Wallace, visited the “Costco on Arundel Mills Boulevard in Hanover.” Around the time of the incident, Costco stores throughout the area had experienced a “string of shoplifting and break-ins.” The Wallace’s decided to visit the Hanover Costco because they were looking for a refrigerator. However, while browsing the store, “they drew the attention of warehouse employees,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C.
The suit states that one Costco employee said they “thought Barbara Wallace resembled a woman who was suspected of shoplifting printer ink cartridges from the store four days earlier.” The same employee reported it to a manager, who then called 911 enough though “no employee observed anyone commit a crime, and, in fact, no crime had been committed.”
According to the suit, while the manager was talking with police dispatchers, he said “there was a robbery in progress…and described the suspects as three black males and one female.” Earlier that day another Costco manager at a Glen Burnie store had been assaulted, something the Hanover manager mentioned in the 911 call when he said, “Robbery in progress, sir. They just left Glen Burnie where they assaulted a manager. They’re stealing ink cartridges.”
The Wallace’s eventually left the store without Costco employees attempting to stop them. Unfortunately for the couple, they were pulled over by investigating officers. According to the suit, “officers immediately recognized that the Wallace’s were not likely to have been involved in any crime and reported that to the officer at the store.” After being cleared by the officers, the Wallace’s returned to the store “and confronted the manager who had called 911.” The suit states:
“When they inquired why they had been identified as shoplifters, the manager stated ‘you fit the bill.’ He repeated this phrase as the Wallace’s made a futile attempt to convince him of their innocence. They had a distinct feeling that they had been discriminated against on the basis of their race.”
While commenting on the incident and being pulled over by police, Barbara Wallace said she was “shocked because they knew multiple people at the Costco.” She added, “We had a relationship with Costco, or at least we thought we did.”
As a result of their ordeal, the couple is seeking “at least $4 million in compensatory damages on civil counts of false imprisonment related to the traffic stop and racial discrimination.”
Representatives for Costco have yet to return requests for comment.