“This should not have happened,” said QFC’s president after two black customers said they were harassed by a Capitol Hill store manager. But the corporation declined to say what it was apologizing for and readers wrote to The Times to vouch for the staffer’s decency.
Two months after Starbucks faced nationwide outrage after the arrest of two African-American men at a Philadelphia Starbucks, QFC quickly apologized and suspended a store manager after learning that two black men said they were harassed Tuesday at the Harvard Market store on Capitol Hill.
“This should not have happened,” said QFC President Suzy Monford, about an hour-and-a-half after The Seattle Times contacted a corporate spokesman about the allegations and sent a link to a video of a confrontation between the manager and the two men.
“As president of QFC, I apologize on behalf of our entire team to the customers involved,” she said in a Thursday statement.
The video begins as an angry exchange is underway. It doesn’t show what led up to the confrontation, and the conversation that is captured doesn’t make that clear.
The customers said in an interview they were being followed by the manager, and felt discriminated against because of their race.
QFC declined to answer questions about what it believed happened, or the manager’s account — even as several longtime customers wrote to the The Times Friday vouching for the staffer’s decency and treatment of customers and employees.
Efforts to reach the manager were unsuccessful.
On the video, a voice can be heard, saying: “We have to show we’re paying for this?”
Questioned more about why he’s standing there, the manager says, “I want to make sure you’re OK ringing everything up.”
“You’re trying to tell me he’s not stoned out of his mind?” the manager also asks.
As the manager is questioned heatedly in response, he complains about one of the men cursing and tells both not to come back. “It’s private property. I don’t want you in here,” the manager says.
Adrian Marshall, one of the two customers involved and who called The Times, said the incident started when he and his friend, Mussie Alemu, went to the deli to order sandwiches while Alemu’s mom did some shopping.
A woman behind the deli counter told the men they would have to pay there, and asked if they had money, according to both Marshall and Alemu. Marshall, 24, is African American and Alemu, 20, is from Ethiopia.
The men said they weren’t going to pay at the counter, and took their sandwiches to the self-checkout station, according to Marshall and Alemu. They were trailed by both the manager and a security officer, they said.
That’s when Marshall said he started shooting the video.
“I am feeling very violated,” Marshall said Thursday.
The QFC statement did not say exactly what it was apologizing for. But it said the manager would be suspended “until we have all the facts.”
It also said staffers are participating in a training this year that in part deals with unconscious bias.
Readers wrote to The Times after this story was first published to say they knew the manager and did not believe that he would behave in a discriminatory way. He often faced abuse at the store, they said, given disruptive people that periodically came in. Two readers said they once saw him being punched.
He remained calm, they said, and asked his assailant to leave rather than calling the police.
“He did call the police this one time, though,” wrote one reader. “ A white man came in and yelled racial slurs and ripped the headscarf off a female employee of his who is Muslim …”
“He cares deeply about his employees and customers and doing the right thing,” the reader said.
Asked about these remarks Friday, and whether QFC had any additional facts about the incident, QFC spokesman Zach Stratton said: “We don’t have anything further to add at this time.”