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It was Dillard's lack of response to complaints in the St. Louis area that led the NAACP regional office to call a "selective buying campaign" against the company in 1985. Among the NAACP's concerns were Dillard's catalogues that only featured white models.
"We couldn't get any answers," says Ina Boon, the NAACP's director of Region 4.
The company finally responded when Dillard's board member John Johnson, owner of Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes Jet and Ebony magazines, arranged a meeting between company officials and the NAACP in July 1986. Dillard's signed a "fair share agreement" with the NAACP. While neither Dillard's nor the NAACP would release the exact terms of the agreement, it included pledges that the company would hire and promote more minorities, increase business with minority-owned companies and include more minorities in its advertising.
But Dillard's level of commitment became suspect, and the NAACP received little follow-up information from the company. Last year, when the NAACP issued report cards on 40 companies with similar fair-share agreements, Dillard's was one of five that received failing marks.
"Dillard's has not lived up to their agreement with us," says Fred Rasheed, national director of the NAACP's economic development office. "It is one of the worst companies in America."
The company, which has provided virtually the same statement to the NAACP year after year, has only released general information on its commitment to recruiting minorities and giving money to minority causes, Rasheed says. The NAACP would not release that information.
But in the areas in which it pledged to improve, Dillard's has done little, if anything.
The only minority-owned product known to be featured at Dillard's stores is Fashion Fair, a cosmetic line owned by Johnson.
In its advertising, in six catalogues and sales-promotion materials reviewed last week by New Times, 20 of the more than 150 models featured were minorities. Three of the smaller publications contained no minority models at all.
In the hiring and promoting of minorities, it's hard to tell where Dillard's stands. But some past statements by the company are descriptive.
"It's been our past experience that very few minorities apply, because, unfortunately, retail as a career faces many negative attributes such as long hours, days of workweek required, and compensation as related to other industries," reads one company statement. "Unfortunately, this situation results in a lack of interest by many Africans, including minorities, in even considering retail as a career path."
Complaints of discrimination have come from Dillard's employees, too.
A former vice president of personnel alleged he was fired in 1983 after attempting to set up an affirmative action program in the company. In a lawsuit, Archie Crittenden alleged that he was ordered "on numerous occasions not to hire any more blacks." The suit also claims a black employee's desk was moved out of view of department-store founder William Dillard. The complaint was dismissed.
More recently, Nancy Griddine, a former manager at a Kansas City, Missouri, Dillard's store, won a lawsuit claiming she was retaliated against for filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, and then wrongfully terminated. Among other things, employees forged her signature on documents, saying they had counseled her before they fired her. She was unable to prove, however, that she wasn't promoted because of her race.
Since her trial ended in April 1991, Griddine has gone so far as to organize a group of 25 former black employees who believe they were victims of discrimination. She has lectured at local churches and at NAACP meetings.
She has testified in two other discrimination trials against Dillard's--both of which were unsuccessful. Another trial is pending.
"We've been the subject of derogatory remarks, been discriminated against and retaliated against, and very few of us will ever get promoted," Griddine says. "Mine was not an isolated experience.