N.S. woman accused of shoplifting wins discrimination claim

A dictionary definition of discrimination is seen.
A dictionary definition of discrimination is seen in this stock photo by Getty Images.

If you’re a retail business owner, here is what you should not do: call out a customer for stealing due to their race or appearance.

An independent human rights inquiry board in Nova Scotia ruled the conduct of a grocery store employee, who falsely accused a black woman of shoplifting, amounted to racial discrimination. The complaint is also before the province’s Human Rights Commission.

Andrella David was buying ice cream at a Sobey’s location in Tantallon, N.S. in 2009. As she was waiting in the cashier’s line, a Sobey’s employee told her, in front of other customers, that the store had video footage of her stealing items and if it happened again, she’d be charged. The same employee also accused her of robbing a liquor store in the neighbourhood in front of all other bystanders. She was told the thefts happened on “cheque day,” implying she was receiving social assistance.

David asked the employee to show her the footage. The video was of poor quality. David told the employee: “If you think that’s me, you must think all black people look alike.” She also went to the liquor store and was assured she wasn’t their shoplifter either. She left in tears.

See: What is discrimination?

The board of inquiry ruled David was called out because of her race and the employee’s perception of her source of income. There was no justification on the side of the store to consider David a known shoplifter. The board looked at the footage and confirmed it was too poor to identify anyone. The video only positively showed the shoplifter was black and had dark hair, nothing more.

The chairwoman determined racial profiling was involved in how David was treated. Later in October, the board will decide what remedy is appropriate in this scenario.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines racial profiling as: “any action undertaken for reasons of safety, security or public protection that relies on stereotypes about race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, or place of origin, or a combination of these, rather than on a reasonable suspicion, to single out an individual for greater scrutiny or different treatment.”

The employee has since apologized for her actions and said: “I know what I did was wrong.”

Note to retail employees: it’s very important that everyone receives training on what conduct may amount to discrimination and how to best eliminate it. Otherwise, the business’s good will and reputation will be easily tarnished.

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