British Columbia

Costco searched his backpack but not women's purses, so he filed a human rights complaint

A B.C. man says he was discriminated against because his backpack was searched while leaving Costco but female customers with large purses didn't get the same treatment.

Company argues its bag search policy is clearly stated on signs and in membership brochure

Costco says its policies for bag searches don't discriminate on the basis of sex. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

A B.C. man says he was discriminated against because his backpack was searched while leaving a Costco store but female customers with large purses didn't get the same treatment.

Ryan Morris filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal claiming discrimination on the basis of sex. The tribunal recently dismissed his claim

"To some degree, Mr. Morris' complaint relies on the assumption that men carry backpacks while women carry purses," wrote tribunal member Pamela Murray in her decision.

"I note that women may use backpacks and, equally, men may carry what may traditionally have been referred to as purses." 

The decision says Morris, who describes himself as a white man and a Costco member since 2000, claims that on one day each in June and July 2017 a female attendant asked to check his backpack as he left the store. 

The incidents embarrassed him, the decision says, because other members stared at him as they left.

Morris claimed that more than a dozen female customers — some with purses he claims were larger than his backpack — left the store without incident while his backpack was searched. As evidence, Morris relied on a statement from his son confirming this. 

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision notes that women can also wear backpacks. (Shutterstock)

The decision says Morris didn't complain after the first incident in June. But after the second time, he asked to speak with a manager.

"Mr. Morris says he told the manager he felt he had been discriminated against because his backpack is like his purse," Murray said in the decision.

Policy posted on signs

In response to his complaint at the time, the manager pointed out the sign at the store's entrance that reminds members that Costco may search their bags. The policy is also stated in Costco's membership agreement.

The manager also told Morris that Costco searches both men's and women's bags, and doesn't search purses — only bags large enough to conceal merchandise.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal decision points out that some men carry bags that could be considered what is traditionally called a purse. (Shutterstock)

Many purses stay open, Costco argued, or an employee can tell if they're hiding store items.

The decision says Costco suggests that customers who don't want their bags searched leave them at home or in their cars. The manager also offered to refund the complainant's membership. 

Still shopping

In her reasons for the decision, Murray highlighted that Costco's policies refer to the type of bag, and not to sex or gender.

The decision also says the purpose of the policy is to prevent shoplifting, and as such it wouldn't make sense for the store to discriminate against either sex.

The tribunal member also noted in her decision that the alleged discrimination didn't appear to have an adverse impact on Morris, who continues to regularly shop at Costco. 

CBC contacted Costco, but the company declined to comment.

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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