How can you reconcile the latest federal suit against B&H Photo Video — and the retailer's response — with what your conscience and common sense tells you might be happening?
You can't. There is still enough evidence to create reasonable doubts, so we should expect a better response from B&H Photo.
In case you missed it, the U.S. Labor Department filed a lawsuit against B&H Photo Video claiming it "has systematically discriminated against Hispanic employees and female, black and Asian jobseekers at its Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse."
That was a major gut punch for many of us photographers who loved and supported the camera retail giant. We made special trips to B&H on most visits to New York City. We might shop around but always return to B&H to make our major purchases.
This was like finding out someone you knew, loved and trusted was involved in an embarrasing scandal. You just didn't want to believe it was true.
B&H officially responded with a statement that reads like a PR guy and lawyer conspired to placate their customers.
Here's the good news — B&H unequivocally denied the worst allegations.
"We can declare outright that B&H does NOT have any segregated bathrooms by race or religion, and anyone working at B&H knows that to be true. Additionally, any similar contentions are not only inaccurate, but bizarre," said in their statement.
I was somewhat relieved that they were willing to take such a strong stand on the worst charges.
Even with that, there are still some troubling aspects of this situation that are still not addressed:
- This is a lawsuit from the federal government, not a few disgruntled workers or someone who "never step foot in a B&H facility."
- This lawsuit is the result of a years-long investigation, not a one-time occurrence.
- The government says that “B&H fell far short of this responsibility and created deplorable working conditions for employees at its Brooklyn warehouse."
- The suit also alleges that when confronted with this information, B&H refused to take corrective action.
Here's the bad news — This kind of controversy isn't new to B&H.
- The NY Post reports that in 2007 B&H paid $4.3 million to settle a separate discrimination case.
- In October 2015, Al Jazeera published a lengthy report from workers who claimed abuse and ultimately won the right to unionize.
- Earlier in February 2016, the retailer was fined $32,000 for not providing guardrails on raised platforms at the warehouse.
The charges raised in the federal suit have a cumulative effect. Why do these kinds of allegations persist about B&H Photo — and only about B&H Photo? We are hearing too many alarming accusations to ignore them all.
I appreciate B&H's statement, but it falls far short of addressing the full range of concerns raised by the lawsuit and the history of complaints. I will wait to see how this plays out before making further judgment or returning to B&H.
It's said that we are still talking about treating people with basic fairness and dignity in 2016.