"We need the light bulbs changed."
Many retail businesses have code words and phrases to subtly pass messages between employees. I worked for Nordstrom, perhaps the ruling king of this practice! Softly spoken codes would alert people that paychecks were ready and hushed voices whispered names that were pretty unintelligible to anyone but coworkers, alerting them to calls holding on the phone. Codes and quietly used key phrases keep business moving smoothly without upsetting the customers. Nothing must impinge on the customer's impulse to shop! Other businesses where I've been employed have had code words used before the store closes, to notify key staff about the arrival of the guy who empties the safe for transport to the bank, for someone in a specific position needing to step away for a
Laurice Rahme, owner and CEO of Bond No. 9, admits that the phrase above, "we need the lightbulbs changed", was used in her retail store to denote the presence of a potential shoplifter or otherwise unwanted customer.
When your stock consists of high-priced items that could be easily stuffed in a handbag or pocket, this code makes a lot of sense. A candle at Bond No. 9 costs $140 and the Swarovski-encrusted perfume bottles are markedly more expensive.
However, two former Bond No. 9 employees have said that this code phrase is the tip of a nasty iceberg and that Bond No. 9, at the direction of Rahme, had a distinct "pattern of racism against customers and employees." Veronica Robledo and Karin Widmann claim that security was notified every time a dark-complected customer entered the shop and that Rahme referred to African-Americans as "thieves". Robledo, a beautiful dark-skinned Puerto Rican woman, even said she was not "allowed" to wait on white customers and felt enough pressure that she made her Jamaican boyfriend hide from Rahme.
Robledo and Widmann filed a federal lawsuit against Rahme, claiming that she violated their civil rights. They filed for $3 million in damages, saying that in February, when they complained to Rahme about her practices, she fired them and accused them of stealing $25,000 worth of stock.
The women did also file a complaint with the NY State Division on Human Rights, but that complaint has since been dismissed as there is a prohibition against filing a complaint and a lawsuit simultaneously.
According to the article on NYDailyNews.com, Rahme has employed the oft-used tactic of referencing "a black boyfriend" from the past to somehow prove she's not prejudiced. Regardless of her romantic history, if Robledo and Widmann's claim is true then Rahme is at the very least guilty of retail racial profiling - and at the most of severe discrimination. For what it's worth, whispers in the perfume community seem to validate Robledo and Widmann's claims.
It's worth noting that Rahme has drawn heat from perfumistas and the media in the past. Claims that she bastardized Creed scents in her own Bond No. 9 line (Creed being her former employer), that she has bullied smaller perfume houses over scent names (ironically claiming some kind of ownership over the word "peace" in perfume names), that she and her PR team aggressively confront bloggers who speak in less-than-glowing terms about Bond No. 9, and stories of Rahme generally behaving in a non-compromising, sometimes brutal manner, have long been discussed in perfume circles and by people who encounter Rahme through her business ventures.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out. In my experience, when there's a lot of talk from all directions, there's usually reason for it. "Where there's, smoke there's fire". Maybe it's time those lightbulbs were replaced and finally some light was shed on Rahme's business practices...