A California woman has sued Walmart, accusing the nationwide chain of racial discrimination because her local store keeps African-American personal care products locked up in a glass case.
The woman, Essie Grundy, said she felt humiliated and discriminated against when on three occasions this month she had to ask a store employee to unlock the beauty supplies, including a recent occasion during which she had planned to buy a $0.48 comb.
“I was angry, I was sad, frustrated and humiliated all at the same time,” Ms. Grundy said in a telephone interview on Monday night.
Ms. Grundy said that in early January she went to the Walmart in Perris to buy a body lotion by Cantu. That’s when she noticed that all the products “targeted at African-Americans” were locked in a glass case, “from the middle of the aisle to the end,” she said.
“Combs, brushes, wave caps — everything was grouped together and separated,” she added.
Ms. Grundy said that the second time she visited this month she asked to speak to a supervisor about why these specific products were locked up. He informed her, she said, that the policy to add additional security came directly from corporate headquarters. Ms. Grundy said that it was a two-hour process to discuss the policy, but that no employees could do anything.
On her third visit, she wanted to buy a comb that was in a glass case. She had to ask for it to be unlocked, she said, and then a staff member said he would have to take the comb to the register so she could pay for it before taking it.
“I felt that I was being treated as a person who might be a thief,” Ms. Grundy said in a statement she issued on Friday, the same day her lawyer, Gloria Allred, filed the lawsuit in California Superior Court in Riverside County.
Charles Crowson, a spokesman for Walmart, acknowledged that certain items are kept locked up for security reasons because they are more likely to be stolen. The items, he said, may differ from store to store.
“You go into any of our stores — a good part of our items are behind additional security,” Mr. Crowson said. “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. Those determinations are made on a store-by-store basis.”
He said the specific allegations in the lawsuit would be addressed in court.
Ms. Grundy is asking that Walmart change its policy pay her lawyer fees and deliver up to $4,000 in damages.
“I would like for everything to go back to normal for what I am used to,” Ms. Grundy said. “I would like to shop just like everyone else at Walmart, not like my time is not valuable.”