Florida shopper feels she was ‘treated like a thief’ at clothing store because of the color of her skin

MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – Erica Gibson says she felt the need to speak out after the experience she had at a local clothing store last week. The Bradenton native went to Rainbow on Cortez Road to do some shopping, but she left feeling humiliated.

When she picked out the items she wanted to try on, she was surprised when a manager told her she wasn’t allowed to bring her purse into the changing room.

Gibson says she’s been shopping at Rainbow clothing stores for several years and has never been told she needed to leave her pocketbook at the front desk.

“She peeked around the corner to see what I was doing and then as I came out of the fitting room, she stated whatever you are not going to buy just put it on the rack. At this point, I am already feeling embarrassed because I am like, why is it that everything I do, every move I make, she has something to say,” said Gibson.

Gibson says she confronted the manager while checking out.

“I said ‘do you have any policies or regulations that you can show me that states that I need to leave my purse with you’. She said ‘no, our district manager had asked and told us that that was the policy and that was what we needed to do’. There was no sign that stated that I need to leave my purse with her or anything,” said Gibson

“I felt discriminated against, I felt harassed, I was embarrassed,” Gibson felt she was being treated like a thief because of the color of her skin. “I just felt like she did it because I was black,” she continued.

8 On Your Side called Rainbow’s corporate office in New York for an explanation and breakdown of the policies in place. The company’s Senior Vice President explained the stores do have a bag check policy for shopping bags and backpacks, but not for purses or wallets.

Adin C. Goldberg sent us an email response which reads in part:

“We have a policy that customers who enter the stores with shopping bags, backpacks or other types of bags, must check their bags at the entrance. The policy is designed to reduce shrink– the loss of merchandise through, among other things, shoplifting. The Bradenton store has had a recent history of high shrink. However, our bag check policy does not include purses containing the customer’s money or credit cards. In this case, the store employee mistakenly asked the customer to check her purse. This had nothing to do with the customer’s race, but was simply the result of misunderstanding the scope of the bag check policy.

Our employees receive written and video training on customer service and on our non-discrimination policy. We do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, or other factors. In fact, we are proud that the majority of Rainbow’s employees, including Store Management, are either African-American or of Hispanic/Latino background.”

Goldberg also said after receiving the customer complaint, the company’s district manager who oversees stores in the Tampa Bay area spoke to store employees and retrained them on the bag check policy to make sure what happened to Gibson doesn’t happen again.

“It was uncomfortable, it was very uncomfortable. I was very embarrassed, I was humiliated, I have never been treated that way before so I had to say something. I had to voice my opinion, something had to be done,” said Gibson.


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