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ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- A self-described activist says the manager of an Easton, Pa., Wawa convenience store wrongly targeted him as a shoplifter solely because he's black, reported the Allentown-based Morning Call.
Khaliq Al-Shabazz of West Easton wants to see that Wawa Inc., among other things, is made to change its hiring and training practices, based on an alleged incident July 28 at the company's store at 300 Larry Holmes Drive. Shabazz claims in a court document that store manager Laurie Killian "demanded" that he "empty out his pockets, for she was accusing him of shoplifting from the candy aisle of the store."
"It hurt me real bad," Al-Shabazz said Wednesday. "In the town I'm from, on Larry Holmes Drive, you know?"
Al-Shabazz said he plans to seek the help of a lawyer and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to pursue the matter. The court document asks for relief via arbitration. Arbitration matters are decided by a court-appointed panel of attorneys, which hears evidence and determines if damages, which cannot exceed $50,000, should be awarded.
"I shouldn't have done that," he said. In a lawsuit, Al-Shabazz could demand a jury trial and seek unspecified damages.
According to the document, Al-Shabazz initially protested Killian's request, but eventually complied, removing from his pockets sugar and creamer packets that he had taken for the cup of coffee he had bought. The document says after being asked the first time to empty his pockets, Al-Shabazz told Killian "that he does not shoplift and that she was humiliating and embarrassing him in front of the other customers present at the time; nonetheless, the store manager continued to humiliate and harass" him.
When Killian made a second request, the document says, Al-Shabazz "became very upset and again told the store manager that he does not shoplift and that he was being singled out because he is black."
Killian said she's been instructed to direct inquiries to Vince Anderson of the company's legal department. Anderson's assistant, Lori Bruce, said the company had not seen Al-Shabazz's complaint. However, she said, Wawa denies that Al-Shabazz was singled out because of his race.
"We disagree … with the assertions being made," Bruce said. Wawa, she added, "has a long history of being a part of the community."