‘Treme’ actor Rob Brown settling shopper-profiling suit; Macy’s says it welcomes all customers

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NEW YORK, N.Y. – A black actor who accused Macy’s of racially profiling minorities as shoplifters is settling his civil rights lawsuit, one of several cases that drew attention last year to long-simmering complaints about how big retailers treat minority customers.

Rob Brown’s case has been settled in principle, Macy’s Inc. and Brown’s lawyer Douglas Widgor said Friday. A federal judge also indicated in a filing Wednesday an agreement was in the works.

Macy’s wouldn’t discuss the terms, saying only that it values every customer and remains “committed to ensuring that every individual who steps into our store feels welcome and appreciated.”

Brown appears on the HBO drama series “Treme” and has acted in films such as “Coach Carter” and “Finding Forrester.” He said he was falsely accused of credit card fraud at Macy’s flagship store after buying a $1,300 watch for his mother for her college graduation in June 2013.

He was handcuffed, held for almost an hour in a store detention cell and grilled about the watch by men who mocked the idea that he could afford it, but he was then released without any charges, according to his court complaint.

“I believe that I was profiled,” Brown said last fall.

His lawsuit was among a series of complaints by black shoppers that spotlighted questions about security practices and profiling at Macy’s and other major retailers in the city. Years earlier, Macy’s had paid a $600,000 fine and promised changes after the state attorney general made similar claims.

The new allegations against the store immortalized in “Miracle on 34th Street” stirred outrage among civil rights advocates.

A Venezuelan tourist was accused of shoplifting at Macy’s after she said she was just carrying items around the store, but she was acquitted. Her lawyer said she was detained for more than six hours as her 12-year-old son waited, not knowing where she was. In another case, prosecutors dropped charges against a Pakistani shopper who said she was unfairly profiled and falsely accused of stealing jewelry.

In December, Macy’s and several other major retailers agreed to create and publicize a customer bill of rights that explicitly prohibits profiling and unreasonable searches.

Macy’s said in its statement that it also had reached agreements to settle other racial profiling lawsuits. At least eight shoppers have filed such suits.

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Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @jennpeltz.

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