Starbucks did it. Is it OK to kick you out of a store?
Starbucks did it. Is it OK to kick you out of a store?CLOSE
The incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks where two black men were arrested while waiting for a white friend is novel in its coverage, but African Americans say this type of treatment isn't new.
Under what circumstances can a clerk or other employee order a person to leave a store?
The answer is there are a few acceptable reasons, but legally they had better be consistent, within store policy -- and race is never one of them.
The question has come up amid a national uproar stemming from the videotaped arrest of two black men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia.
The men were denied use of a restroom because they didn't order food or drinks. The store manager called police when they refused to leav e, explaining they were waiting for a friend. As video rolled, the friend arrived as police led the pair away in handcuffs. They were later released when Starbucks didn't press charges.
In the video, they are neatly groomed, wearing casual clothes and not causing a ruckus.
"If somebody is being disruptive or occupying very limited space . . . people would understand asking somebody to leave the premises,'' says Reginald Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "But even so, thereâs only a certain amount of leeway they have in doing that."
Starbucks said Tuesday that it will close it's more than 8,000 company-owned stores in the U.S., as well as its corporate offices on the afternoon of May 29 to conduct anti-discrimination training. The company's CEO apologized and had discussions with the two men who were arrested. The manager who called the police no longer works for the chain.
Someone who is &quo t;yelling and disrupting the environment . . . or damaging the property" could likely generally be asked to leave a store or restaurant, says Robert L. Dodge, an executive vice president with G4S Corporate Risk Services, a global risk consulting group. But specific policies for what constitutes unacceptable behavior can vary by business.
Dodge says that most companies will consult with an attorney to come up with guidelines. Starbucks said it is reviewing its policies, but has not made them public. Once those policies are established, security professionals say it's critical that companies apply them consistently to all customers.
Appearance shouldn't matter.
"Whether they're dressed in suits, whether they're dressed in baggy pants, whether they're dressed in sweat pants, the policy has to apply across the board, equally and fairly,'' says Edward Troiano, owner of Knight Security, a Manhattan-based firm that provides protection services primarily at events and event spaces.
Customers should be made aware of the business' rules, and if someone is believed to be violating them and asked to leave, they should still be treated with kindness and respect, Troiano says.
If they refuse to go, "then unfortunately, the third step which you never want to do is to say, 'Look, you have to leave or we have to call the cops,' '' he says. When that occurs, "you've got to make sure all those t's (are crossed) and i's are dotted, that you treated them fairly, you treated them equally and you treated them according to company policy and not because of anything else.''
The Starbucks incident is just the latest in a troubling string of bias allegations lodged by African Americans against businesses ranging from high-end boutiques to chain restaurants. They include accusations by Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe that she was racia lly profiled at a Chanel store and the firing last month of three Applebee's employees in Independence, Mo. who falsely accused two black women diners of skipping out on their bill the day before.
Starbucks stands out because it has embraced a role as a community meeting place where people read, work on computers or just hang out, whether they buy anything or not.
"The kind of discrimination witnessed at Starbucks resonates deeply with African Americans who still suffer the indignity of discrimination by retailers,'' says Todd A. Cox, director of policy for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Retailers need to make sure managers understand how to articulate company guidelines, especially amid heightened awareness of implicit biases causing workers to disproportionately mistreat customers of color, says Mark Lipton, graduate professor of management at The New School.
âStore managers [need to be] very well trained and extraordinary communicator s so that if there is someone who is taking up a lot of space and itâs during a busy hour, they know how to talk'' to those customers, Lipton said.
When there are allegations of bias and a lawsuit is filed, the burden of proof falls on the person who makes the legal complaint, attorneys say.
Derek Sells, a partner with the Johnnie Cochran Law Firm, is not representing the two men arrested at the Philadelphia Starbucks, but he says their case appears to be "egregious,'' and is bolstered by the comments from some white customers who say they've similarly sat in the restaurant without ordering coffee or food, yet were not asked to leave.CLOSE
Protesters at Philadelphia Starbucks where two black men were arrested last week, sparking accusations of racial profiling, demand a full apology.
"Thatâs where you have whatâs called disparate treatment,'' Sells says, "where two similarly situated individuals of different races are treated differently for doing the same thing.ââ
Still, guidelines and training may still not be enough to prevent every problem, particularly in the retail or restaurant space where employees often don't stay long on the job, says Dodge of G4S Corporate Risk Services.
"Even when you've done all that, mistakes do happen. People are people. They have biases. And unfortunately, sometimes biases do creep their way into job functions,' he said.
More: Starbucks vows 'unconscious bias' training after having 2 black men arrested
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More: Starbucks just the latest accused of racial profiling
Starbucks customers around the country are boycotting the coffee chain after two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia store after an employee called police on them.
Contributing: Nathan Bomey