Los Angeles (AFP) - A Californian woman sued supermarket chain Walmart on Friday, accusing the company of implementing extra security measures on products marketed toward black people.
Essie Grundy, 43, says all beauty products marketed for black people are placed in a locked glass case, while cosmetics targeting other ethnicities are freely available at the Walmart near her Perris home, about an hour southeast of Los Angeles.
When she asked a shop employee why the products were under lock and key, Grundy was told it "was a directive from corporate headquarters," longtime women's rights attorney Gloria Allred told reporters.
The employee also told Grundy "she would need to be escorted to the cash register with the product so she could purchase it," Allred added.
When Grundy raised the issue with a store manager, she says she did not receive a clear response, and no action was taken.
Grundy says she also visited two other Walmarts close to her home, and in one cosmetics marketed for African Americans were freely available, but monitored with security surveillance, unlike other products.
"As a result of this discriminatory business practice and policy, we filed a lawsuit this morning against Walmart," Allred said, without specifying the damages being sought.
"It perpetuates a racial stereotytpe that African Americans are thieves."
The lawsuit demands an immediate stop to the practice -- noting the humiliation and psychological trauma Grundy was made to feel.
Grundy, a 43-year-old mother who owns an online clothing business, returned to the shop after the initial incident and filmed the beauty department.
The video was played during the press conference -- showing men's and women's shampoos, body creams and combs of little retail value among other products with labels featuring black models, all arranged in a locked glass case.
"We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind at Walmart. We serve more than 140 million customers weekly, crossing all demographics," the retail giant told AFP in a statement.
"Some products such as electronics, automotive, cosmetics and other personal care products are subject to additional security," which Walmart said individual stores determined "using data."
The issue of Walmart securing beauty products marketed toward black people has already been a topic of controversy in the US -- most notably in Virginia, where the practice was denounced by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
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