Patricia Fulford of Riverhead outside the Walmart store on Route 58 in February 2019. Photo; Denise Civiletti

Walmart has rescinded a corporate policy allowing its store managers to keep African-American beauty care products in locked cases, according to media reports last night.

The company’s change in its longstanding and widely criticized policy came following renewed scrutiny this week after a black customer in Colorado complained about being unable to access locked-away hair care products without the assistance of a Walmart employee. The corporate policy change was reported by the New York Times, CBS, NBC and USA Today last night. A company spokesperson could not immediately be reached for confirmation.

A Walmart spokesperson said in a statement to the Times last night that the company locked up certain items at a limited number of locations to “deter shoplifters from some products such as electronics, automotive, cosmetics and other personal care products,” the Times reported.

Decisions about whether to use locked cases and what items should be placed in locked cases were “made on a store-by-store basis using data supporting the need for the heightened measures,” a Walmart spokesperson told RiverheadLOCAL in January 2019.

File photo: Denise Civiletti

Certain hair care products, labeled “multicultural hair care,” had been locked behind glass doors while other similar products marketed to white customers were readily accessible on store shelves.

A day after RiverheadLOCAL reported on the complaint of an African-American Riverhead woman who was unable to access locked hair-care products when she stopped in the Riverhead Walmart on her way to work one morning, the local Walmart removed the glass doors and locks.

Patricia Fulford of Riverhead complained to Walmart, the town and the NAACP about the locked case — and called on the local African-American community to boycott the store.

The store then removed the locked glass doors.

Walmart did not respond to a request for comment the following day on the store’s decision to remove the glass doors and locks in its Riverhead location.

“I felt vindicated in what we did to get them to unlock the Riverhead store,” Fulford said this morning.

“It’s like Kapernick kneeling and taking the heat for it and now the NFL is apologizing and saying they were wrong,” she said.

When she complained, she said, many people supported her and she appreciates it, but “so many people turned on me,” she said. “I asked for support from certain people, they refused.”

Walmart was sued over the policy in 2018 by four African-American women in California. The lawsuit was settled on undisclosed terms in November 2019.

‘Multicultural Hair Care’ products in a locked case in the Riverhead Walmart on Jan. 31, 2019.
File photo: Denise Civiletti

“Walmart does not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” company spokesperson Lorenzo Lopez wrote in an email to the Times last night.

“We’re sensitive to the issue and understand the concerns raised by our customers and members of the community and have made the decision to discontinue placing multicultural hair care and beauty products — a practice in place in about a dozen of our 4,700 stores nationwide — in locked cases,” Lopez wrote, according to the Times.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.