A woman from Glassboro, New Jersey, alleged she was racially profiled at a Wawa store after she went there to get a quick breakfast.
Bernardine Rochelle went to the store early morning to get a cup of coffee and some trail mix when a store clerk accused her of stealing.
Rochelle is an African-American and sports an afro. Apparently, for the white store clerk, that meant she was the same woman who had come the night before and had shoplifted.
“The (Wawa) associate told Rochelle that she remembered Rochelle’s big afro from a prior occasion when she was stealing,” said attorney Karin Coger.
The worker reportedly screamed at Rochelle, “I put you out last week and you’re back here again stealing ... Get out!”
The clerk, a young, white woman, then allegedly “snatched the trail mix out of Rochelle’s right hand,” Coger said in a statement.
“Rochelle was frightened as the Wawa associate attempted to snatch the coffee out of her hand, as well,” said Coger about the incident that happened on June 20.
The attorney said Rochelle, who is a mother and her grandmother, was “embarrassed, surprised and insulted” by the disturbing event. She told her lawyer she was afraid she “someone may have witnessed an attempt to throw her out of the store.”
Rochelle later reported the incident and got a call from the Wawa manager saying he had not identified the employee who had accused her. She then called a regional manager who said an investigation would take place.
However, Rochelle never received a verbal or written apology or any indication that the racist incident was being investigated. Several days later, the woman received a letter with a $100 gift card from Wawa, claiming it was “a token of our appreciation for your loyalty as a valued Wawa customer.”
That letter also did not contain an apology or even any mention of the incident.
Coger said the incident caused “psychological turmoil” to Rochelle and is just another example of a “history of discrimination against people of color in public spaces.”
A Wawa representative apologized to Rochelle just recently.
“We are very sorry for the experience Ms. Rochelle had. Our goal is always to provide a welcoming, positive experience for our customers. We take every opportunity to learn from every situation,” the spokesman said.
Rochelle’s attorney said they are still considering whether they should file a lawsuit against Wawa.
It’s shameful that a woman, who has been an educator for 17 years, has been meted such treatment. Granted, the employee did not know Rochelle was an educator but accusing her based on just her “big afro” is the typical example of racial profiling.
Wawa also reportedly has not identified the store clerk or confirmed whether it would discipline the employee. At the very least, they should consider firing her.
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