Money & Policy

Older Shoppers Are Being Pegged as Shoplifters

New suits against CVS allege shameful bullying of 'senior citizens'

Retirement savings are low. Social Security checks are grim (a 0.2 percent cost-of-living increase in 2017 — really?). As if all that weren’t enough for retirees on fixed incomes to worry about, here’s something else to add to the list: being profiled as crooks.

A recent batch of lawsuits is shedding light on what may be ageist profiling practices at some CVS pharmacies in New York City, which have allegedly targeted older adults as potential shoplifters.

“Seven discrimination lawsuits filed Monday against the pharmacy chain in courts across the city include the revelation that a CVS ‘Loss Prevention’ handbook warns employees that senior citizens on a ‘fixed income’ present a ‘special shoplifting concern,’” the New York Post reported yesterday.

Next Avenue appreciates the story calling out age profiling as not only ridiculous but also a problem akin to racial profiling.

Are Some CVS Stores Age Profiling?

And while Next Avenue takes issue with the ageist opening line of the story in the Post, which reads “Public enemy No. 1 at your local CVS: Grandma and Grandpa,” we appreciate reporters Julia Marsh and Kevin Sheehan calling out age profiling as not only ridiculous but also a problem akin to racial profiling (which CVS also is accused of, by the way). Note to the media: Not all older adults are grandparents, and even if they are, most don’t identify primarily by their grandparenting status (something I’ve ranted about before).

With more than 9,000 retail locations, CVS bills itself as the “largest pharmacy healthy care provider in the U.S.” That’s a lot of customers. Pure common sense — and simple math — tells you that a lot of them must be older adults. Or, as CVS prefers to think of these shoppers: potential shoplifters.

What the Whistleblowers and CVS Say

According to the story, 16 whistleblower ex-CVS staffers have stepped forward to support the claim that employees were trained to profile older shoppers — training that led to practices such as employees humiliating older shoppers by setting off security alarms even when there was no evidence of shoplifting.  

CVS told the Post: “We are not aware of these new cases, so we are unable to comment specifically. However, in previous cases brought by the same law firm on similar complaints, plaintiffs’ attorneys have not been able to produce any documentary evidence to support their allegations.”

On the cvshealth.com website, the company boasts (as most companies do) about its commitment to diversity in its employment practices. “We work hard to develop a diverse workforce and provide a workplace that empowers all of our colleagues, regardless of their age, ethnicity or background.”

If only the CVS treated its customers with the same regard.

By Heidi Raschke
Heidi Raschke is a longtime journalist and editor who previously was the Executive Editor of Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and Living and Learning Editor at Next Avenue. Currently, she runs her own content strategy and development consultancy.@heidiraschke

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