On Tuesday July 13, the Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission reached a settlement agreement against a national discount dollar chain store that was found to be racially profiling customers of African descent. The case involved two African American females who went into the store to shop, but when they attempted to leave the store, the door was locked, and they were prevented from leaving until their purse was searched.
During that search, management revealed that they were conducting the search in part because they were Black. The search revealed that nothing was stolen. During the search and subsequent discussion, the assistant store manager allowed White customers to exit the store without requiring bag or purse searches.
The Des Moines Human Rights Ordinance public accommodation provision prohibits businesses and organizations that offer their services to the public from discriminating on the basis of race, which includes racial profiling and false accusations because of the color of the customer’s skin.
“We believe that these cases happen all the time, and if it was not for these two brave young women recording the interaction, it could have been a ‘he said, she said’ kind of case,” said Commission Director Joshua V. Barr. “We encourage anyone who feels uncomfortable in an interaction with a business to record the interaction and save it; under Iowa law you have that right.”
The Commission found probable cause to believe that the civil rights of the two African American females were violated under Des Moines public accommodations laws. The case was finally settled for one Complainant for $8,600 while the other Complainant chose to pursue further action in state court.
Another part of the settlement required the company to implement an anti-discrimination policy prohibiting local store associates “from engaging in any discriminatory or harassing conduct toward any customer due to a customer’s race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, and/or gender identification.” A training program will also be developed for store employees and management will be required to post a non-discrimination informational poster by the Commission in their store.
“We believe that it is really only through policy and practice change that we can eliminate discrimination and create a truly inclusive society,” said Director Barr. “It is our job to make sure that everyone has the same sort of experience when shopping and interacting with stores and businesses, so please don’t be afraid to speak out and report situations you believe are discriminatory.”
Any person who believes they have experienced discrimination may file a complaint by contacting the Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission at (515) 283-4284 or [email protected]. Discrimination complaints may also be filed online.
Municipal code protects the confidentiality of all parties involved in a settled complaint.