A cashier simply asked her if she’d be using her EBT card (no doubt based on previous experience with the hundreds of others who DO use their EBT card.)
Deirdre Harris, 42, said the incident occurred on January 27 at the Albertsons off Alton Avenue and Culver Street in Irvine, California.
Harris told The Mercury News that she was pulling out a debit card to pay for her grocery items when the clerk asked her if she wanted to use her electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, colloquially known as food stamps.
‘I felt completely demoralized,’ said Harris, an Orange County native who works as a fashion brand consultant. ‘For me, it was a very clear reminder – a painful reminder – that we do not live in a post-racial era.’
After speaking with three supervisors, including Ron Foss, a regional manager at Safeway, Albertsons parent company, Harris said she was told that the clerk was simply offering her free reusable bags because those on food stamps do not have to pay for them.
Foss offered Harris $500 as compensation for her emotional distress but she refused and filed the lawsuit.
Safeway’s investigation into the incident found no evidence of discrimination or racial profiling, according to the company’s follow-up letter.
Harris said this is not the first time she has experienced subtle racism in Irvine, a city that is less than one per cent African America.
Her attorney, Chris Mears, said the clerk’s actions and the company’s reaction to the incident violate California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.
Harris said she wants the company to make changes to prevent something like this from happening again.
‘I filed this lawsuit not just for my two children, but also as a professional who works with emerging brands and social startups,’ she said. ‘If you are silent, you are part of the problem. Nothing changes when you are silent. I had to ask myself, if I’m not taking steps toward progress, then, what am I doing?’