On Friday, June 17, 2011 at about 4:00PM, my friend and I visited Staples Inc. at 15110 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33618. We visited the store with the intent to purchase an office chair for the desk we had bought at the American Signature store down the street. I entered the store first while my friend was outside on the phone. Upon entering, I made my way to the office furniture section to look at the available office chairs. While looking at the chairs, I noticed that my friend had not yet entered the store, and I walked around to locate her. A few minutes later she came in, went to the laptop accessories isle where I met up with her. We perused around the nearby isles together as well as separately looking at office accessories and art accessories things that we were interested in and needed.
We then made our way to the office chairs and sat in the select chairs that we were interested in. We were approached by the Store Manager, Lewis Clark and were asked if we needed any assistance. We declined and stated we were just looking at the office chairs and thanked him for asking. We stayed in that isle for a few more minutes then proceeded to head towards the exit. However, my friend decided to look at what cameras were available with the intention of upgrading her camera. Initially, I did not accompany her but instead perused the software isle while she looked. I was then approached by a female associate who asked if I needed assistance. I again declined stating I was with a friend who was looking, and thanked her for asking.
As I made my way to my friend in the camera isle, I again noticed Lewis Clark at a distance of about two to three feet away from me. I paid no mind to it, because I assumed he was counting inventory. My friend and I then moved toward the tablet displays one of which we owned. Lewis Clark continued to follow us with a distance of three feet between us. I turned back at Lewis Clark, realizing that he indeed had been following us. It was then he spoke across the room to the Assistant Manager, Troy Tate apparently making it seem like he was not following us. I had no idea what it was about us that made him feel the need to follow us. We were not dressed inappropriately, nor were we being rowdy.
Feeling uncomfortable by the way I was being treated, I stated to my friend it was time to leave.Making our way to the exit, Lewis Clark quickly walked passed us, stopped us at the door and said Did you guys find anything you would like to buy? I then replied No. We were just looking at the chairs. He then had a sly smirk on his face and replied in the most condescending tone: Just looking at the chairs, huh? Ok. I then walked around him, because he refused to let me exit. At this point, he proceeded to follow us outside of the store. My friend then confronted him about what he was doing and he denied it.
We walked to our vehicle after the verbal confrontation, and decided that what had happened to us was disrespectful and unacceptable. We re-entered the store to obtain information for the Area Manager, Lyn Rice. The Assistant Manager, Troy Tate gave us the information while we explained what had happened. While explaining our concerns, he attempted to cover for the Store Manager, stating that we were not being followed and that Lewis Clark was with him the entire time. He then questioned our intelligence, by asking Are you sure he was not trying to help you?
After that conversation, we left the store to proceed home. We called Lyn Rice and left a message. To date, Lyn Rice has yet to respond to our call. My friend then called the store twice, to speak with Lewis Clark. She was never able to speak with him the first time because they were unavailable. The second time she called, she spoke to one of the associates, Monica. My friend was, at that point, too upset to speak directly to Lewis Clark, so we relayed the message to her. While speaking with Monica, she was aware of the incident that had happened, saying that she saw the whole thing and felt that Lewis Clark had treated us very well and that it is store policy to observe suspicious behavior. When she was asked what suspicious behavior was portrayed, she could not answer. My friend proceeded to state that while its understandable that they were protecting store assets, the first targets for suspicion of shoplifting are Blacks and Hispanics to which she responded that is true.
On Saturday, June 18, 2011, my friends parents visited the Staples store to confront Lewis Clark about his behavior. He continuously denied ever following us. He was then caught in his lie when our parents told him about the phone conversation we previously had with Monica who confirmed his behavior. He then had no comment from that moment forward.
As two Black female professionals who are actively pursuing Masters degrees, I am appalled at the way we were treated at Staples. Never in our lives while in the United States or abroad have we experienced the racial profiling and discrimination that we did that day. Having lived in different countries, being able to speak multiple languages, and travelled to twenty eight countries, only until now have we been treated differently because of the way we looked. In no way or manner were we suspicious and they are still incapable of supporting their suspicions. The behavior we experienced in Staples made us feel utterly uncomfortable and discriminated against. In fact, our whole experience feels very surreal even until now. The first and most important rule in loss prevention is to be discreet and professional and Lewis Clarks behavior towards us was not compliant to that rule.
The three associates mentioned above are in no way examples of the advertised values of Staples. Based on my experience, Staples associates do not conduct themselves in a manner that shows they are responsible for the company's success. Instead, it seems that they are less concerned with providing exceptional customer service to buying customers and more concerned about their practices of racial profiling.