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UWS Apple Store Sued For Racial Discrimination

Two men say an employee at Apple's Upper West Side location kicked them out of the store because they're black.
Two men say an employee at Apple's Upper West Side location kicked them out of the store because they're black.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Two black men say a white employee at the Upper West Side Apple store told them he didn't want "your kind" in the store, then booted them from the high-tech haven.

The explosive allegations are included in a racial discrimination lawsuit the men filed in New York State Supreme Court in February. The case, first reported by My Upper West, was recently moved to federal court.

Plaintiffs Brian Johnston, 34, and Nile Charles, 25, say in court papers that a store employee who appeared to be a security guard told them to leave, then said, "And before you say I'm racially discriminating against you, let me stop you. I am discriminating against you. I don't want 'your kind' hanging out in the store."

A woman who answered the phone at the Upper West Side Apple store referred questions to Apple's corporate office in California. The company did not respond immediately to a request for comment late Wednesday, neither did the attorney representing Apple in the lawsuit.

According to the court filing, the men are loyal Apple customers. Johnston owns an iPad, a MacBook, a PowerMac G4 and an iPod touch, and Charles owns an iPad and two iPods.

On a Thursday afternoon in December 2010, the two men went to the Apple store at 1981 Broadway near West 67th Street to buy headphones, according to the lawsuit. They made their purchases in the store's basement, then headed to the street-level retail area.

Dressed in baggy jeans and large sweaters with hoods, Johnston and Charles say they were confronted by a white Apple employee in his 50's who was wearing khakis and a black shirt.

The plaintiffs say the employee approached them "in an intimidating fashion," then said, "You know the deal … Either you're here to see a Mac specialist or to purchase something. If you are not doing either you need to leave the store."

According to the court filing, before Johnston or Nile could reply, the employee delivered the bombshell comment that he was racially discriminating against them.

Johnston and Charles were "shocked and humiliated" by the employee's remark, the lawsuit states. When another member of the store's staff approached, Johnston and Charles whipped out their cell phones to record what was happening, the lawsuit says.

According to the legal filing, the first Apple employee then told Johnston and Charles, "Now you have to go. If you want to know why, it's because I said so. Consider me God. You have to go."

Johnston and Charles say in the court filing that they then asked to see a manager to lodge a complaint, but that the store's head of security ignored the request. The two tracked down a manager and complained that store employees were engaging in racial profiling, because none of the white customers were being asked to leave.

The manager then called 911, according to the lawsuit. The court filing doesn't say whether police responded or what happened next.

Johnston and Charles, both New York residents, are seeking monetary damages. The lawsuit doesn't specify an amount, but damages in federal court must exceed $75,000 per plaintiff, said their attorney, Bill Phillips of Phillips & Phillips.