US: Best Buy Sued for Bias

Publisher Name: 
San Francisco Chronicle


Six current and former employees of Best Buy filed a race- and
sex-discrimination lawsuit Thursday against the consumer electronics chain in
federal court in San Francisco, accusing it of denying better-paying sales and
managerial jobs to African Americans, Latinos and women in favor of white men.

Lawyers and plaintiffs accused the chain of having a "culture of racial
and gender stereotypes."

A company spokeswoman denied the charges, saying the retailer maintains a
diverse workforce because it has a diverse customer base.

"Best Buy is committed to a workplace free of discrimination," Susan
Busch, director of public relations, said in a telephone interview. "We do not
tolerate discriminatory practices."

Best Buy, based in Minneapolis, operates 731 stores nationwide and has
114,000 employees in the United States and Canada.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, seeks class-action status and
accuses Best Buy of putting black and Latino employees in lower-paying
stockroom, cashier and minor sales positions.

It claims Best Buy has a disproportionately white sales and management
force compared with other large retailers, with white men making up more than
80 percent of the chain's managers. Fewer than 10 percent are women, African
American or Latino, the suit says.

"We've been investigating this case for over a year," said Bill Lann Lee,
one of the plaintiffs' lead attorneys and an assistant attorney general for
civil rights in the Department of Justice during the Clinton administration.
"There is a corporate culture of stereotyping."

Among the plaintiffs is Jasmen Holloway of Vallejo, who worked at the
Marin City Best Buy from January 2001 until August. Holloway, who is African
American, said she had been fired after she complained that a white male
co-worker had been promoted over her. The official reason cited for her
dismissal was improper use of her employee discount, she said.

"I happened to find out two weeks after I was told I could apply for a
position that the job had been given to a white male with one-third less
experience," said Holloway, 22. "Which hurt me a lot."

The other plaintiffs are three African American men, two of them employees
at the Marin City store and one a former worker there; a Latino woman who works
at the Best Buy in Chico; and an African American woman who works in the
chain's outlet in Mira Mesa (San Diego County). All say they were paid less,
denied promotions and received unequal training opportunities compared with
white male employees.

The lawsuit also claims Best Buy has a "segmentation" policy that
discriminates against customers by requiring managers and salespeople in a
store to focus on one of four customer-profile types. All the types are white,
and only one is female, it claims.

According to the suit, they are: "Barry," a man with a six-figure income
who buys what he wants regardless of cost; "Ray," a man who likes electronic
gadgets but may not always be able to afford them; "Buzz," a young man
interested in electronic gaming who makes small purchases; and "Jill," who is
"Barry's" wife and is a stay-at-home soccer mom.

Busch said she could not comment on individual employees' cases, but
disputed the lawsuit's characterization of the company's customer
classifications. She said none of these is identified by race.

"Best Buy is a retailer and employer of choice, so we must be committed to
a workforce that reflects our customers," Busch said.

AMP Section Name:Retail & Mega-Stores
  • 184 Labor
  • 188 Consumerism & Commercialism