So says a pair of former “perfumistas” at the high-end Bond No. 9 perfume shop who claim in a federal lawsuit that owner Laurice Rahme is a racist who called African-Americans “thieves” — and used a code phrase to alert security when dark-skinned customers came into the store.
“We need the light bulbs changed,” was the signal for an unwelcome customer, according to the lawsuit.
Veronica Robledo and Karin Widmann are seeking $3 million in damages in the suit that accuses Rahme of violating their civil rights and firing them for objecting to her “pattern of racism against customers and employees.”
Robledo of the Bronx, who worked for Rahme for nine years, also claims her boss wouldn’t let her serve white customers because “my skin is dark.”
“I was very offended,” a tearful Robledo, 41, told the Daily News. “The last eight months were torture. I was afraid to speak to a black customer. ”
Robledo, who is Puerto Rican, said she even had to keep quiet about her black Jamaican boyfriend and “tell him to hide when he came to pick me up so (Rahme) wouldn’t see him.”
The last straw, Robledo said, was when Rahme accused her in February of knowing a black customer who was caught shoplifting in another store.
Robledo said when she and Widmann finally complained about the racism in February, Rahme fired them and accused them of stealing $25,000 worth of stock. They deny the accusation.
Rahme insisted she’s no racist and blamed the suit on “disgruntled employees” who got caught with their hands in the till. She said most of her workers are from minority groups, and added that she welcomes black customers. “We love them,” she insisted.
Rahme admitted they do use the “light bulbs” code “to protect the girls” when somebody suspicious enters the stores. But she insisted it’s not aimed specifically at black customers, although she did mention that each time her stores were robbed “they were all African-American robbers.”
Rahme, who said her ethnicity is French and Lebanese and claims to have once had a black boyfriend, also said the women’s discrimination complaint with the state Division on Human Rights was kayoed.
Walker Harman, an attorney for Robledo and Widmann, said the complaint “was dismissed at our request” for administrative reasons barring pending complaint and a lawsuit at the same time.”
A veteran of the beauty industry, Rahme learned the trade working for Lancome. She rose to become the company’s director of international training, and was key to tripling its skin-care products throughout he Middle East.
Still in her 20s, she moved to New York to oversee Lancome’s U.S. spa business.