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Racial bias lawsuit filed by shopper against Dillard's

Another black shopper has sued Dillard's, alleging racial discrimination at the chain's department store in West Shore Plaza.

Gloria Massey of Tampa was stopped by an off-duty Tampa police officer working as a security guard and told, "find the pants or go to jail," according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

The officer, wearing her uniform, escorted Massey from the second floor to the first floor, where she had tried on clothes. Massey showed the officer and a clerk that the pants were on a rack.

Tampa police reprimanded Officer Ronda A. Smalley over the incident, but she was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed Friday.

A manager at the West Shore Dillard's declined comment, and officials at company's corporate offices in Arkansas could not be reached Friday night.

According to Massey's lawsuit, she was told several times, "If you act like an animal, I'll treat you like an animal," which "amounted to a racial epithet."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for false imprisonment and assault. It alleges that, besides detaining Massey against her will for 15 to 20 minutes, Smalley, acting as an agent of Dillard's, began removing her glasses, saying, "I'm going to take my glasses off .


. you know what that means."

Massey was "frightened by the language, the manner and the tone," of Smalley, and feared "immediate bodily harm," the lawsuit says.

In recent years, at least 20 black Dillard's customers have sued stores nationwide alleging harassment. Concern about the company's treatment of blacks prompted one mutual fund group to dump Dillard's stock in 1994. The NAACP dropped the company from a career-advancement program for minorities.

In January, a former manager at the West Shore Plaza store sued Dillard's, claiming she was fired because she was black. Neilsa Scott contended that she was fired after thefts from display cases in her area of the store, and that white managers who suffered similar losses were not fired.

Seven Tampa customers joined in a lawsuit in 1993, alleging they were followed too closely by security guards while shopping in Dillard's stores in Tampa and Jacksonville. That lawsuit was dropped in 1994.