Two cousins who say their cash was refused when they tried to pay for more than $1,000 in baby gear at a Long Island Buy Buy Baby believe they were turned away because they are black.
Damon and David Harvey say they were only trying to make a splash at a family baby shower when they brought three big-ticket items to the register at the superstore in Garden City.
But their festive mood quickly faded when the store clerk brought their $1,173 in cash back to a supervisor, who then told them that their cash was no good.
The cousins say they now believe they were discriminated against because of their race – a charge the store vigorously denies.
The cousins’ claim to state authorities has been found to have “probable cause” by the Division of Humans Rights, meaning that an attorney for that agency will argue their case before an administrative judge, unless the men decide to hire a private lawyer. The cousins say they are weighing their options, which could include a civil suit.
"I just don't want anyone to experience what we did that day -- it's a terrible, terrible feeling,” said Damon Harvey, 35, of Hempstead.
The New York attorney general's office last month announced that it is investigating both Barney’s and Macy’s in Manhattan after black shoppers said they were detained at the two stores and later released without charges.
In a statement, a Buy Buy Baby spokeswoman said the store has a “zero tolerance for any form of discrimination,” and added that the case is “still very much under review.”
On the day the cousins were shopping last January, a Buy Buy Baby supervisor told them that their money was “not real,” and “didn’t meet certain requirements,” according to the men. She then instructed them to use a different payment method or leave the store “before the cops get here.”
The cousins, who do not own credit cards, said instead of fleeing, they wanted to speak with police, and they waited patiently until officers arrived. But even after the officers said the cash looked fine, the store manager did not allow them to purchase the car seat, stroller and crib.
“It was so humiliating,” Damon Harvey said.
The Harveys, who were expected at the shower for their cousin’s baby later that day, wound up depositing their cash in a bank. They then sent another cousin back to the same store to purchase the items with an ATM card. They said despite their anger at the chain, they had spent time selecting the items they wanted and didn’t want to start over at a different store.
The Buy Buy Baby spokeswoman, Jessica Joyce, said what happened was not about race – the store was being cautious because there had been counterfeit currency showing up in several area stores. She said an internal memo had been distributed to area stores warning of the counterfeit ring.
“Our associates were following specific company policies which were implemented to detect and deter sophisticated counterfeit currency techniques that pass highlighter tests,” said Joyce.
She added, “We are fully confident that our record will remain unblemished once all the facts come to light and the state’s inquiry is complete.”
Regardless of the outcome of the case, the Harvey cousins say they will not soon forget what happened.
“Anyone else could be vulnerable if you have a certain skin color,” David Harvey said.