Most retailers take steps to encourage people to shop their stores and seek to get those who do so to remain customers. The CVS pharmacy has been accused of turning those concepts on their heads: Several discrimination suits filed against the chain in New York City on Oct. 31 accuse the retailer of advising staff, in a ‘loss prevention’ handbook, that older people ‘like’ to shoplift and of failing to discourage employee actions intended to embarrass departing older visitors, creating the impression that they may be hiding and stealing items.
The New York Post reported that the employee handbook warns employees that senior citizens on a “fixed income” present a “special shoplifting concern.”
The paper said that attorneys from the Manhattan law firm Wigdor LLP brought the suits on behalf of former employees arguing that the policy is “tantamount to an admission of discrimination against older customers.”
Lawyers Michael Willemin and David Gottlieb noted that they have testimony from 16 whistleblower ex-staffers who claim that CVS stores across the city discriminate by profiling elderly shoppers as well as blacks and Hispanics.
One of the cases was initiated by Anson Alfonso, a former “market investigator” for CVS, where he was part of a team of undercover employees who helped track and bust shoplifters.
Alfonso, 27, worked as a store detective from January 2013 to October 2014. He told The Post that store managers, supervisors and even stock personnel would frequently swipe security tags past checkpoints to set off an alarm when an elderly person was leaving a CVS store. The intent was to intimidate them and imply, with no evidence whatsoever, that the older person was shoplifting.
“They would say, ‘I didn’t see it but I know that old person was stealing,’ ” Alfonso said.
The paper noted the shoplifting-among-the-AARP-set theory mirrors a 1998 “Seinfeld” episode titled “The Bookstore,” in which Jerry catches his Uncle Leo stealing a book from Brentano’s. When Jerry confronts him, Leo protests that the petty theft is his right as a senior citizen.
“It’s not stealing if it’s something you need,” Jerry’s dad, Morty, says, with his mom, Helen, noting, “Nobody pays for everything.”
A shocked Jerry shouts, “You’re stealing, too?!” and Morty explains, “Nothing. Batteries. Well, they wear out so quick.”
But attorney David Gottlieb says there’s nothing funny about the pharmacy chain harassing innocent seniors and other groups protected under the law.
“It is reprehensible that CVS targets customers based on race, ethnicity and even age, and we intend to hold the company accountable for these practices,” he said.
The new filings come a year after Gottlieb’s firm sued CVS in a federal class action, alleging store managers ordered security guards to focus on minorities.
A CVS spokeswoman said, “We are not aware of these new cases, so we are unable to comment specifically. However, in previous cases brought by the same law firm on similar complaints, plaintiffs’ attorneys have not been able to produce any documentary evidence to support their allegations.”