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Colorblind Collaring

Avoid retail racism in your efforts to nab shoplifters and serve customers.

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This story appears in the May 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When Amanda Berube started working at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Children's Place, a nationwide children's clothing retail chain based in Secaucus, New Jersey, she was surprised by one aspect of her training: instructions to shadow African American customers in hopes of preventing theft. Berube was also instructed not to give large shopping bags to African American customers, not to tell them about sales and not to invite them to apply for store credit cards. Berube, who is white, received similar instructions when she was promoted to the chain's Watertown, Massachusetts, location. When her complaint to the chain's district manager brought no response, she went to the state.

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination sent African American and white "customers" to The Children's Place stores to test what treatment they received and soon collected enough adverse evidence to prepare a lawsuit. In December 2000, the chain agreed to a 22-step settlement. Corrective measures would include hiring a consultant to examine company policies, conducting anti-discrimination training in its Massachusetts stores and donating $50,000 to charity.

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