What happened between sales and security people at Barneys’ flagship Manhattan store and college student Trayon Christian is for the lawyers to decide.
But Barneys was so wary of the horrible publicity that it broke the commonly used rule that it does not comment on pending litigation. That’s usually a dodge, to make sure people speaking for the defendants don’t fan the flames and make their attorneys’ task tougher. There is, parenthetically, always a way to issue a comment about pending litigation and not make it worse. But that’s for another day.
Here’s the narrative from Huffington Post [flagged by the eagle-eyed EMA PR pro Meredith Dropkin]:
Barneys New York and the New York Police Department have been slapped with a lawsuit by Trayon Christian, a college student from Queens, who was arrested at the luxury department store in April.
“His only crime was being a young black man,” Michael Palillo, Christian’s attorney, told The New York Post.
The Post reports that the 19-year-old was at the store buying a $350 Salvatore Ferragamo belt, but following the purchase, he was stopped by undercover officers who were allegedly called on by a Barneys sales clerk who believed the transaction was fraudulent.
The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, states that the NYC College of Technology freshman was asked by the cops “how a young black man such as himself could afford to purchase such an expensive belt?” He was then handcuffed taken to a local precinct.
For sometime after the story of the lawsuit broke, Barney’s declined to comment.
But today, it deigned to do so, posting on its Facebook page, which is another comment in itself.
The following statement can be attributed to a Barneys New York spokesperson:
“Barneys New York typically does not comment on pending litigation. In this instance, we feel compelled to note that after carefully reviewing the incident of last April, it is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale. Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights.”
Good comment. Sharp and, we hope for Barneys sake, factual. But in the 24-36 hours since the story broke, the lack of comment did what lack of comment always does — it created a vacuum and let the plaintiffs’ attorney and thousands of people in social media condemn and excoriate Barneys.
The high-end clothier may or may not have discriminated against this 19-year-old black man. But the black eye it gained by staying silent won’t heal anytime soon.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.