Walmart will end its practice of locking up African-American beauty care products in glass cases, the retail giant said on Wednesday after a fresh round of criticism that the policy was a form of racial discrimination.
Hair care and beauty products sold predominantly to black people could be accessed at certain stores only by getting a Walmart employee to unlock the cases, some of which featured additional anti-theft measures.
At some stores, the cases were across the aisle from shelves of generic beauty products that were not locked up and that included shampoo and conditioner.
Critics of the practice, which had been the subject of a federal discrimination lawsuit that was dropped last year, said that it implied that black people were more likely to shoplift. Walmart had previously said that certain products were locked up because they were more likely to be stolen.
The change came as a host of major corporations re-evaluated their business practices and social responsibility after the death of George Floyd and widespread protests over police brutality and discrimination. It also followed a recent report by the television station CBS 4 in Denver that drew attention to the different treatment of Walmart customers.
“As a retailer serving millions of customers every day from diverse backgrounds, Walmart does not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” Lorenzo Lopez, a Walmart spokesman, wrote in an email on Wednesday night.
Mr. Lopez said that Walmart, like other retailers, 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.”
“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,” Mr. Lopez wrote.
In 2018, a California woman sued Walmart in federal court for discrimination over the policy, saying she felt humiliated having to ask a store employee to unlock the beauty products case on three visits to the store, including to buy a comb that cost $0.48.
The woman, Essie Grundy, said she went to a Walmart in Perris, Calif., in Riverside County to buy body lotion by the beauty brand Cantu when she noticed that all of the products “targeted at African-Americans” were locked in a glass case, “from the middle of the aisle to the end.”
Ms. Grundy, who was represented by the lawyer Gloria Allred, dropped the lawsuit in November, court documents show.
Reached on Wednesday night, Ms. Allred would not say if there was a settlement in the case, which was voluntarily dismissed with prejudice — meaning it cannot be brought back before the court. She said that “the matter was resolved.”
Walmart did not comment on the resolution of the lawsuit.
Ms. Grundy declined to comment on the policy change.
CVS and Walgreens have also faced criticism for locking up beauty products sold to black people. The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday night.