#ShoppingWhileBlack: Maryland Couple Sues Costco for $4M

Barbara and Bahri Wallace loved to shop at Costco. And this trip to the megastore should have been like every other trip. However, while the couple were shopping at the Costco in Anne Arundel County in Maryland in May, the husband and wife reported they were being watched by management.

President, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Costco Wholesale Corp., Walter Craig Jelinek, leads a predominantly male executive leadership team that includes one woman, one Latino and one man of Middle Eastern-descent.

Costco has never participated in Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity competition. On average, Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s Top 10 Companies’ senior management consists of at least 21.6 percent of Black, Latino and Asian executives.

On the day of the incident at Costco, a call was made to 911 in reference to the Wallaces, and the caller told police that there was a robbery in progress.

Police officers were given a tag number that belonged to the couple’s truck. The officers determined no crime had been committed and the Wallaces weren’t involved in a robbery. The Wallaces then went back inside the store to confront the white manager.

“[The] manager came up. I said, ‘Did you call the police on us saying we were shoplifting’ His response was, ‘You fit the bill.’ he said, ‘Fit the bill’ And he said, ‘African-American male and female, and your wife is carrying a blue purse,'” Bahri Wallace told WBAL-TV.

Costco executives released a statement regarding the store manager’s behavior. They explained that the manager was not racially profiling the couple. Apparently, the couple “matched the description” of two other people believed to be shoplifting at other Costco stores because of Barbara’s blue purse.

“Law enforcement, not Costco, made the decision to execute the stop … Its staff communicated to a patrol officer that it had not found reason to detain the Wallaces,” the store said, in a statement.

Arundel Police indicated the statement released by Costco wasn’t necessarily accurate because employees never reported a crime in the first place.

“As can be heard in the radio transmissions at the time of the stop, Costco was still attempting to determine if a crime was actually committed,” the statement from the department read. “It was, in no way, relayed that a stop should not have been made.”

The Wallaces are suing the company for $4 million in damages.

Costco’s response to the incident seems fitting, especially because of their internal challenges with diversity and discrimination. In December 2013, Costco sent customers its annual holiday card, which included a photo of employees. The card didn’t include any Black employees.

Clearly, diversity isn’t Costco’s strong suit. In its third quarter fiscal report for 2018, the retail giant featured all white employees and primarily white customers. It’s an absolute indicator of who Costco’s target customer and preferred type of employee is.

Costco, also, drops the ball when it comes to discrimination against people with disabilities, gender bias, sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

The company’s mission statement states:

“Costco’s mission is to continually provide our members with quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices. To achieve our mission we will conduct our business with the following Code of Ethics in mind:”

  • Obey the law
  • Take care of our members
  • Take care of our employees
  • Respect our vendors

According to consumer watchdog site, Violation Tracker, Costco has paid out close to an astounding $43 million dollars in penalties since 2000. It’s safe to say that the company doesn’t take it’s mission statement seriously.