CHICAGO — CVS has fired two employees at a store in the Edgewater neighborhood who called the police on a black female customer Saturday after she attempted to use a coupon.
"We have completed our investigation, and as a result the two colleagues who were involved are no longer employed by CVS Health," Mike DeAngelis, a spokesman for CVS Health, said in an email.
The company also said it has "sincerely apologized" to the customer, Camilla Hudson, who shared her experience on Facebook, including a video of the store manager on the phone with police.
The episode is the latest incident of alleged racial profiling or customer mistreatment at retail stores and other venues that quickly went viral on social media. It also exemplifies how some companies are quickly responding to the often swift and harsh public backlash before it does more than bruise their corporate reputations.
Hudson said the incident took place Saturday at CVS' store at 6150 N. Broadway. According to her account posted on Facebook, the store manager said he believed her coupon, for a free personal care item valued up to $17.99, to be fraudulent. Hudson said she asked for his name and title to complain, and tensions escalated. Hudson posted a video of the store manager, who identified himself as Morry Matson, on the phone with police. Police responded to the store but took no action, according to the Chicago Police Department.
Neither Hudson or Matson could immediately be reached for comment. CVS issued an apology Saturday and said it was investigating the matter.
"CVS Health does not tolerate any practices that discriminate against any customer and we are committed to maintaining a welcoming and diverse environment in our stores," DeAngelis said in his email Monday. "We have firm non-discrimination policies in place to help ensure that all customers are treated with respect and dignity. Profiling or any other type of discriminatory behavior is strictly prohibited."
There have been several recent incidents of companies having to address employee conduct.
Starbucks swiftly apologized this spring after two black men in a Philadelphia store for a business meeting were arrested when an employee refused to let them use the restroom without making a purchase, and later called the police and accused them of trespassing.
The coffee giant removed the employee involved, and later closed its 8,000 stores for an afternoon so all its employees could participate in unconscious bias training.
Earlier in the year, a waitress at an IHOP restaurant in Maine asked a group of black teenagers to prepay for their meal, and another diner wrote about it on Facebook. IHOP apologized and said it had "zero tolerance" for discrimination.
And last year at O'Hare International Airport, a video of a United Airlines passenger who refused to give up his seat quickly went viral worldwide, prompting a public relations crisis for the Chicago-based airline that resulted in legislative hearings, policy changes and employee training.
"You would hope that one organization would learn from the misfortune of another. It's not that easy," said Ron Culp, director of the graduate program of public relations and advertising at DePaul University.
Culp said these incidents all come down to the initial training employees receive. "I guarantee as a result of CVS, other coupon-focused retailers will do a quick assessment of their policies and procedures," he said.
"In this case, it should always start with training and making sure employees anticipate all the various situations," Culp said, adding, "When you're a retailer that's heavily promotion-oriented, then you just need to make sure everyone knows what to do when something like that happens."
Empathy goes a long way with angry customers, especially in retail, said Bob Phibbs, CEO of New York-based consultancy the Retail Doctor.
"My concern is how it's showing up in retail, in the very places where people need to feel they matter, because people who feel they matter buy more," he said.
Culp also offered some advice for companies seeking to train their employees to deal with difficult situations and upset customers.
"Rather than elevate the incident, get everything to cool down," Culp said.