Teenagers claim retailer discriminated against them

Steve Gonzalez May 17, 2007, 6:00am

Two teenage boys filed a civil rights suit against retailer Steve & Barry's LLC, alleging racial discrimination.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, Sean Burk, 14, is of Asian ethnicity and Ryan Torphy, 15, is of Hispanic background.

The boys claim they were with two other friends at the University Mall in Carbondale on Feb. 16, and were going to see a movie at a mall theater.

They claim that prior to the movie they were in Steve & Barry's when a clothing rack suddenly fell to the ground because of its faulty construction and/or design.

"Immediately after the rack fell agents and employees of Defendant Steve & Barry's detained Burk and Torphy along with their two friends," the complaint states.

The teenagers claim all four were taken into an office of Steve & Barry's, questioned, and were not allowed to leave.

According to the complaint, one of the friends was white and one was of Indian descent.

"Steve & Barry's published a statement to other commercial establishments located in the mall that the Plaintiffs were guilty of retail theft, and they have been denied access to the mall by Defendant Stoltz Management for a period of six months as a result of the accusations made," the complaint alleges.

The plaintiffs claim their white friend was in the closest proximity to the rack at the time it fell and he repeatedly attempted to tell Steve & Barry's employees that they were not responsible for any damage to the coat rack.

"Plaintiffs' white friend was not accused of theft nor was he subjected to a ban from being a guest at the University Mall," the complaint states.

The boys claim they have been deprived of the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges and advantages, including the right to make and enforce contracts, and the right to be free of racial and ethnic discrimination and hostility in being able to frequent retail establishments on the same and equal basis as enjoyed by white citizens.

"Steve & Barry's ban results in a denial to the Plaintiffs to enjoy the same opportunities and advantages enjoyed by whites was done intentionally, willfully, with malice or with reckless indifference and with the purpose and intent of depriving Plaintiffs of their federally protected rights without regard to their race," the complaint states.

They claim they have suffered actual damage and will continue to suffer damages resulting from the humiliation and embarrassment caused by Steve & Barry's refusal to treat them fairly and equally because of their race and ethnic background.

Represented by Darrell Dunham of Carbondale, the boys are seeking actual, compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $150,000, plus attorney fees and costs of the suit.

The case has been assigned to District Judge Michael Reagan.

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