MANHATTAN (CN) – CVS must face a class action led by two store detectives who say they were directed to harass black and Latino customers while patrolling for shoplifters, a federal judge ruled.
Two so-called market investigators who guarded various New York City locations of CVS in 2013 filed the case two years ago with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
They claimed racial discrimination is pervasive at CVS, and that store managers habitually used slurs in reference to minority customers whom they wanted the guards to apprehend.
Even when there was no basis to stop a shopper, lead plaintiffs Zaire Lamarr-Arruz and Mominna Ansoralli said CVS had a quota system in place, encouraging them to do so under false pretenses. CVS allegedly uses the quantity of apprehensions as a performance metric of loss prevention.
Though CVS disputes the allegations of hostile work environment, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl denied the pharmacy chain summary judgment on Sept. 26.
CVS failed to sway the court with evidence that only one of the guards called its ethics hotline to report retaliation for fighting the quota system.
The guards’ testimony “raises questions regarding whether the hotline was a viable means of reporting racial discrimination,” Koeltl wrote in the 41-page opinion. “Similarly, the evidence raises genuine disputes of material facts about whether complaining to a supervisor was a reasonable avenue to report discrimination or a false promise.”
Lamarr-Arruz, who is black, can advance claims that CVS delayed his return to work following medical leave, then forced him to “jump through hoops” before ultimately firing him.
The ruling calls the explanation given for Lamarr-Arruz’s firing in internal records inconsistent.
CVS failed to sway the court with its note that Lamarr-Arruz was fired five months after attempting to come back from medical leave. “While his official termination occurred in May 2014, his fate was sealed in December 2013,” the ruling states.
The court likewise rejected claims by CVS that co-plaintiff Ansoralli should not be able to claim race discrimination because she does not identify as Hispanic.
Koetl called the retailer’s distinction about Ansoralli, who is of Guyanese and Portuguese ancestry, irrelevant.
“Whether Ansoralli self-identifies as ‘Hispanic’ is not dispositive of whether she was discriminated against based on her race or whether she is in fact Hispanic for the purposes of Section 1981 (of the federal civil rights law),” the ruling states.
Indeed, Ansoralli has told the court that when she identified herself at work as West Indian mixed with Spanish, a store manager was quick to boil that down.
“Oh, you’re a spick,” he said, as summarized in the ruling.
Jason Nagi, an attorney for CVS with the firm Polsinelli, has not returned a phone call or email seeking comment.