— -- Four former CVS workers are suing the pharmacy chain and some of its managers in a potential class action lawsuit, claiming that staff in multiple New York City stores racially profile African-American and Hispanic shoppers, using racial slurs.
The suit alleges that the workers were "routinely" directed, among other things, to "follow that black guy" without any evidence that a shopper is going to steal anything, while at least one supervisor "would never give such directions with regard to white shoppers."
Three of the four plaintiffs also claim they quit because of hostile working conditions as loss prevention employees, or "market investigators," after they complained about racial discrimination against themselves. They filed their lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan Wednesday, claiming violations of the New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law. CVS must respond to the lawsuit within 30 days.
When asked to comment about the allegations in the lawsuit, a spokesman for CVS provided the following statement to ABC News: "CVS Health has firm nondiscrimination policies that it rigorously enforces. We serve all communities and we do not tolerate any policy or practice that discriminates against any group. We are shocked by the allegations in this complaint and we intend to defend against them vigorously."
Keith Pollack, 41, one of the plaintiffs, alleges in the lawsuit that after he got into an argument with a store manager, he was told to “get his black a** back to the store and apologize" by one of the defendants in the lawsuit. The other three plaintiffs are Delbert Sorhaindo, 26; Lacole Simpson, 32; and Sheree Steele, 46. Two of the plaintiffs claim that their complaints about racial discrimination resulted in retaliation through "increased scrutiny, micromanagement and fabricated performance criticisms." The four plaintiffs are asking for injunctive relief against CVS so that it takes steps to remedy its alleged illegal conduct, as well as unspecified punitive damages.
David Gottlieb, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit does not specify the number of stores in the New York City area where his clients experienced discrimination.
"This was not a situation where it was not one or two stores or one or two managers," Gottlieb told ABC News. "This scheme was perpetrated by multiple managers and directors in the loss prevention department of CVS and many store managers. I don’t have an exact number. This is not an isolated situation but an institutional problem at CVS."
The four ex-workers claim "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," according to the lawsuit. Among several CVS managers that the suit names, two CVS loss prevention managers in Manhattan and Queens are accused of being "ringleaders of this racist and offensive approach to loss prevention," the suit claims.
The plaintiffs claim they personally experienced racism from CVS managers, including one who allegedly wouldn't allow Pollack to enter her office. The assistant store manager allegedly told him, according to the lawsuit, "She [the store manager] does not allow blacks in her office."
Pollack, Simpson and Sorhaindo were forced to resign between February and April this year, the suit says, after working for the company for about four years, Gottlieb told ABC News. Steele says she was not permitted to return to work in July 2013 after returning on approved leave, which the suit alleges is "blatant retaliation for her complaints."