Discrimination trial against Dillard's begins in Jefferson County

For more than a decade, Dillard's department stores have made national headlines after the apparel distributor was accused of racially discriminating against African American customers. Shortly after the news spread, lawsuits started popping up across the country.

Here in Jefferson County, one such lawsuit has gone to trial. The trial of Joseph McCarty et al vs. Dillard's, Inc. began Wednesday, Oct. 31 in Judge Milton Shuffield's 136 th District Court.

This is the second trial of its kind in Shuffield's Court. The four plaintiffs in trail now were severed from the original lawsuit, which boasts around 27 plaintiffs, said court staff and court documents.

The first trial, Shannon McDowell vs. Dillard's, occurred two years ago. According to court documents, McDowell sued Dillard's for false imprisonment. He was aggressively trying to exchange a pair of shoes for a more expensive pair and detained for causing a scene. A jury awarded him $350,000 for past and future mental anguish.

The remaining plaintiffs in the suit are alleging several unrelated incidents of racial discrimination took place at the Parkdale Mall and Central Mall Dillard's over a time period of 12 years.

"Claiming a systematic course of misconduct based, in part, on alleged corporate policy of racial profiling on the part of the Dillard's defendants, the plaintiffs seek recovery under a multitude of theories, including civil rights violations," stated court documents.

In essence, the plaintiffs are alleging Dillard's management followed corporate policy instructing security officers to profile and tag all African Americans patrons.

According to a Web site dedicated to Dillard's "history of customer abuse and egregious misconduct," litigation against the retailer began in June 1994 after an African American customer in Houston claimed he was hogtied and beaten to death by store security after a dispute with a clerk. Other cases include allegations of customers being accused of theft or physically abused by store security or personnel. Many cases have gone to trial with hundreds of thousands of dollars being awarded to plaintiffs.

Dillard's attorneys had filed motions in limine requesting that the plaintiffs' lawyers be restrained from discussing company policy. Not all the requests were granted.

The plaintiffs are represented by Houston attorney Cletus Ernster.

Dillard's is represented by two law firms, Pillips & Akers and Germer Gertz.

The original lawsuit was filed on April 20, 2002.

Case No. D166-912-A

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