Discrimination suit against Dillard’s will be heard after all

Monday, July 23, 2007 | 2:42 p.m. CDT; updated 1:51 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Dillard’s Inc. will get their day in court after a decision Friday by a federal appeals court.

The plaintiffs, mostly from the Columbia area, sued the retailer in 2003 in U.S. District Court, alleging that Dillard’s had engaged in systematic racial discrimination against black customers. They claimed service staff and security guards followed and watched them closely while they were in the store, yet ignored them when they sought assistance in making purchases.

Several of Dillard’s former employees acknowledged an “unwritten” policy of discrimination against black customers going back over a decade, which included heightened surveillance and a double standard for refunds on returned items.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 17 black plaintiffs — former customers and employees of Dillard’s — had a valid claim of racial discrimination against the national retail chain, overturning a 2005 ruling, and ordered the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to hear the case.

The U.S. District Court in Kansas City dismissed the suit in 2005, saying that the plaintiffs’ allegations did not constitute racial discrimination under Federal Civil Rights legislation.

Neither the plaintiffs’ lawyers nor Dillard’s lawyers could be reached for comment. One of the plaintiffs, Alberta Turner, did not wish to comment on the case.

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