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Walmart Required This Woman to Be Escorted to Buy Black Beauty Products. Now She’s Suing.

Essie Grundy (L) sits beside attorney Gloria Allred as they announce their race discrimination lawsuit against retail giant Walmart in Los Angeles, California on January 26, 2018. Essie claims that on a shopping trip to her local Walmart she discovered that all the hair products used specifically by African Americans were locked away in glass anti-theft cabinets, whereas all hair products used by others were left on open shelves. / AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Essie Grundy and attorney Gloria Allred announce their race discrimination lawsuit against Walmart at a news conference Friday in Los Angeles.

MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

A woman who had to be escorted to a cash register to buy black American beauty products at a Southern California Walmart filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the retail giant Friday.

Essie Grundy was shopping at a Walmart in Perris, California, when she noticed that cosmetics marketed to black women were the only ones locked in anti-theft casing.

“When I walked down the aisle and saw that Walmart had placed all of the African-American hair and skin products under lock and key, I had to pause. I was in shock,” Grundy said at a news conference Friday. To purchase a bottle of lotion, an employee had to unlock the anti-theft casing and then walk the product to the register before Grundy was allowed to touch it.

“I felt that I was being treated as a person who might be a thief, even though I have no criminal history,” she said. “I never want my children, or anyone else’s children, to experience what I did at Walmart that day.”

Grundy’s attorney, women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred, said the plaintiff wants Walmart to issue an apology and to remove the additional security around its ethnic cosmetic products.

Walmart defended its actions in a statement, saying such measures are necessary to prevent shoplifting. “We’re sensitive to this situation and also understand, like other retailers, that some products such as electronics, automotive, cosmetics, and other personal care products are subject to additional security,” the company statement said. “Those determinations are made on a store-by-store basis using data supporting the need for the heightened measures. We take this situation seriously and look forward to addressing it with the court.”

Shoppers around the country have posted pictures and videos on social media of black American products locked up at various Walmart locations and at other retail stores.

Others have defended the practice, claiming it’s common for a variety of products.

Walmart’s Perris store is not the only location to be accused of segregating its beauty products. In December 2016, an ad sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union accused three community Walmarts in Virginia of discrimination for using additional security on black hair care products. Since then, all but one of the three stores has stopped locking up the products, according to WVEC, an ABC affiliate in Suffolk, Virginia.

Nor is Walmart the only retailer accused of discriminatory practices against people of color. CVS shoppers have also complained on social media that the pharmacy chain locks its black cosmetics behind anti-theft casing. And in 2015, former detectives sued the company for racially profiling black Americans and Hispanics. The detectives for four separate CVS stores in New York City said in a complaint that their supervisors encouraged them to watch black and Hispanic customers more closely to catch more shoplifting cases.

“CVS intentionally targets and racially profiles its black and Hispanic shoppers based on the highly offensive, discriminatory, and ill-founded institutional belief that these minority customers are criminals and thieves,” the lawsuit said.

Department stores Macy’s and Barneys have also settled racial discrimination cases in recent years after allegations that security personnel detained an inordinate number of minorities on suspicion of shoplifting.

Jaime Dunaway

Jaime Dunaway is a Slate intern.

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