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Ex-Undercover CVS Workers Claim They Were Told To Go After Blacks And Latinos

The former employees filed lawsuits this week claiming they were told to racially profile customers in order to boost their shoplifting arrest numbers.

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Five employees filed lawsuits against CVS Pharmacy on Monday, accusing their managers of racial profiling and discrimination, including directing employees to frame minority customers in order to increase the number of shoplifters caught.

The claims bring the tally of former employees taking action against CVS to nine since June 2015. Each of the claims, which includes a class action lawsuit, were filed on behalf of former store detectives — called "Market Investigators" — whose job it was to go undercover as shoppers in various CVS locations around New York City to catch shoplifters, and sometimes work with local law enforcement to have them arrested.

A federal lawsuit filed in Eastern New York District Court by former store detective Sheldon Thomas summarizes many of the complaints included in the many court filings.

Thomas alleges that he and other detectives were constantly directed to engage in racial profiling of black and Latino customers, and were constantly required to endure the use of racial slurs by their superiors and store managers.

"Make sure to watch the Spanish because they are thieves and crooks," Thomas alleges he was told repeatedly by one of the regional loss managers. He and another manager also called black customers "n*****s" and made statements such as, "Our numbers [of caught shoplifters] should be up there because lots of n*****s and Hispanics can't afford anything," and, "Watch the black n*****s that come in the store," the lawsuit states.

Thomas and his fellow plaintiffs also recounted cases of being encouraged to arrest shoplifters of color but let white suspects go.

The lawsuit also alleges that detectives were told to falsify reasons for apprehending CVS customers to increase the number of stops and detentions within a given region.

Other claims filed on Monday allege that CVS failed to pay fair overtime compensation.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, CVS Senior Director of Communications Mike DeAngelis said the claims made in the lawsuits had so far not been backed up by deposition testimony.

"This lawsuit appears to be little more than rehashes allegations," DeAngelis told BuzzFeed News in an email regarding Thomas' suit.

In the nine months since the initial lawsuits were filed, DeAngelis said CVS deposed three of the plaintiffs.

"They all testified under oath that they were aware of, and followed, the company's anti-discrimination policies," DeAngelis said. "Moreover, they could not identify a single instance of a CVS customer being racially profiled."

He continued:

CVS Health has firm nondiscrimination policies that are rigorously enforced throughout the company. We do not tolerate any practices that discriminate against any of our customers or employees and our Market Investigator training explicitly prohibits the profiling of customers. In addition, our policy is to fully compensate colleagues for all of the hours they work.

We intend to continue defending against this complaint, which we believe will prove as baseless as the previous filings.

However, Michael Willemin, a senior associate with the law firm representing the plaintiffs, told BuzzFeed News that CVS' claim that the deposed plaintiffs could not identify any instances of a customer being racially profiled was "disingenuous."

"I was present during those depositions," Willemin said. "They gave many, many, many examples of direction that they and others engage in racial profiling."

Despite being told to engage in racial profiling and discriminatory behavior, Willemin said his clients refused to do so.

"To draw from their depositions that somehow CVS does not have a discrimination or racial profiling problem in New York City is incredibly disingenuous," Willemin said.

Read the full lawsuit below:


Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Ema O'Connor at ema.oconnor@buzzfeed.com.

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