By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Dillard's stock price has sunk in recent years. Experts said that has nothing to do with allegations of retail racism. Analysts said its disinclination to put its merchandise on sale has hurt it, as well as not doing much to change the way it presents its stores, considered somewhat dull by some customers. Although its shares traded above $50 in the early '90s, in December it was trading at $15.75 on the New York Stock Exchange.
A 1999 Wall Street Journal article said there was "a long history of strife between the company and minority groups." It also has a long history of not wanting to talk with the press. Corporate spokeswoman Julie Bull initially said she would respond to questions faxed to her by the Press. After having those questions for a week, Bull said she had turned them over to Dillard's legal department. The legal department did not answer the questions either, although an independent publicist, Skip Rutherford, provided a Dillard's response more than two weeks after the questions were first posed to Dillard's. The responses did not address any questions involving litigation. (see "Head Ways").
In a 1984 lawsuit, Archie Crittenden, who'd been vice president for personnel when he was fired in 1983, said Dillard's discriminated against blacks in its hiring policies. Crittenden said all personnel policies were signed off on by William Dillard Sr. and Ray Kemp, vice chairman. Crittenden said he heard from Dillard and Kemp on several occasions that he "was not to hire any more blacks."
According to Crittenden, in a meeting in 1982, discussion turned to the presence of African-Americans in the corporate offices. It was discussed and approved that a black employee should be moved back further in the department so Dillard Sr. wouldn't see her when he entered the building. Crittenden lost his lawsuit but did some damage to Dillard's reputation.
In July 2001, Dillard's agreed to pay $5.6 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by black employees. About 1,000 current and former employees from Kansas and Missouri were covered in the action.
The NAACP regional office in St. Louis in 1985 led a "selective buying campaign" against Dillard's. One of the concerns was that Dillard's catalogs featured only white models.
In 1998, after complaints in Kansas City, Missouri, general counsel Paul Schroeder wrote a letter on behalf of Dillard's pledging its commitment to good race relations with its customers and employees. In it, he said Dillard's would emphasize its prohibition against targeting minority shoppers. A committee was formed of Dillard's personnel and community representatives to chart its progress in establishing better relations, but nothing much ever came of it. The NAACP has expelled Dillard's from its Fair Share program and in 2003 once again gave it an F for its diversity efforts.
Dillard's is dogged in fighting lawsuits. Paula Hampton, an African-American human resources manager at Babies "R" Us won a $1.2 million jury award against Dillard's. The store had kept her from claiming a cologne sample and she was detained by a guard for suspected shoplifting in Overland Park, Kansas. Dillard's took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear it in February 2002.
Sometimes it is Dillard's own employees who are most critical of its operations. Debra L. Brown was an area sales manager at the Bonita Lakes Mall in Meridian, Mississippi, until she was fired on January 31, 2001, for allegedly trying to steal a pair of $16.99 capri pants. Brown says she actually was terminated in retaliation for her opposition to Dillard's "policies of harassing minority customers of the store through the use of excessive security practices."
In a deposition last October 30, Brown described a scene involving Antonio McDyess, who played for the Denver Nuggets in 2001. She said she was on the other side of the store when she got a call to come back to the children's department. The description she got when she called in to security was: "Young black male, sagging pants, bushy hair, expensive jewelry Dope runner. Looking like a dope runner in there."
She went to the department and found two men, both collecting a lot of clothes, being shadowed by sales clerks. She went up to the bushy-haired man, who told her, "Ma'am, I don't have any intentions of leaving your department or the store without paying for this merchandise. I'm just shopping." She backed away. She got another call saying: "You need to come back over here. We're getting ready to pull him down." A clerk called again, saying the man was trying to pass a bad check. She asked how the clerk knew it was going to be bad. "Well, it's going to be for about $3,700," Brown said the clerk told her. When Brown got the check she said, "My hand started to shake because I saw that it said Antonio McDyess and it gave the NBA team that he was with." Turns out, Brown said, McDyess had just come from two and a half hours of basketball instruction with inner-city youth.
Ernster has collected other notarized statements of alleged discrimination against customers from Dillard's employees. From the Dillard's Tyler store, dockworker Dennis March and sales clerk Ollie Fay Oliver said that while black customers were detained and handcuffed in the store in full view of other shoppers, this was not done with white customers. Gloria Tilley, a Dillard's sales clerk for more than ten years, said, "I was instructed that if two or more blacks came into the store, I was supposed to watch them. I was also told that blacks wearing leather coats had to be watched."