An African American woman has sued clothier Bebe Stores for race discrimination, saying that when she tried to return an unused skirt and blouse, the San Francisco store manager accused her of lying because "you people always do this.''

In a U.S. District Court suit, filed Monday, Samantha Allen-Wise, a legal secretary from Oakland, said she was subjected to demeaning and humiliating treatment at the Grant Avenue store last June, including the manager's false allegation to police that Allen-Wise had struck her.

"Retail discrimination is a very widespread problem that no one talks about because minorities are most often the victims,'' said Michael Harris of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, one of Allen-Wise's attorneys. Her suit seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages, against the company and the store manager.

Bebe's Brisbane headquarters referred an inquiry Tuesday to its general counsel, Craig Walsey, who said the company does not comment on lawsuits. Allen-Wise said in her suit that Walsey told her in July he had investigated her complaint and found no discrimination, but she said he acknowledged that he had not spoken to witnesses, reviewed a police report, or looked at a videotape of the incident.

According to the suit, Allen-Wise bought the skirt and blouse in late May 2003 to wear at a wedding but never wore them because the wedding was canceled. When she tried to return the apparel last June, with the original tags still attached, she was referred to the store manager, Melissa Bunfill, who said the items had been worn and were soiled and refused to accept them. When she protested, Allen-Wise said the manager told her, "You people always do this. ... I know you wore it because that is what you people do." Bunfill also accused her of forging the tags on the items, even after Allen- Wise showed identical tags on a skirt at the store, the suit said.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cg...AG3M72UM01.DTL