Ulta responds to employee claims that brand encourages racial profiling

Employees and customers are complaining about racial profiling at Ulta locations.
Ulta beauty and cosmetics store
The retailer is now responding to the claims gathered by a beauty industry watchdog account.John Greim / Getty Images

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/ Source: TODAY
By Chrissy Callahan

Over the last few weeks, multiple Ulta Beauty employees have accused the retail giant of encouraging its staff to racially profile customers. Now, the beauty store is addressing the brewing controversy.

Beauty industry watchdog @EsteeLaundry shared makeup artist Adeola Ash's story of being racial profiled at her local Ulta store. The Instagram account then received the following direct message from a former Ulta employee: "I worked for Ulta years ago and quit because they would literally pull cashiers from the front to follow black customers around as soon as they walked through the door. During a loss prevention corporate meeting they literally encouraged us to racially profile."

Several former and current Ulta employees shared similar stories, including @nicole_emiliaxo who wrote, "Mmm I used to work for @ultabeauty and the GM would make me follow Hispanics/ black people the second they’d come in. And if I didn’t then she would get mad at me, and cut my hrs."

Ash told TODAY Style she shared her story with @EsteeLaundry because she was fed up with the discriminatory treatment she's received at multiple Ulta stores.

"Why should it be okay for Ulta employees to be so blatantly racist? I shouldn’t have to leave a store with tears in my eyes just because I want to buy some concealer and also happen to be black. This was not my first time experiencing racism at this location, but it had never been this bad before. I was too hurt to just let it go this time. I wanted to tell my friends what happened to me so they would stop shopping there, and also to alert Ulta so they could do something about it," she said.

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In a statement shared with TODAY Style, Ulta shared the following response:

"These accounts are disappointing and contrary to our training and policies. We stand for equality, inclusivity and acceptance and strive to create a space that is welcoming to all. That is why we have our associates participate in ongoing trainings on diversity and inclusion. This is our responsibility and we take it seriously. We know it is about daily action and accountability. We will continue to reinforce our policies and values across the company because we never want to hear that a guest has anything less than a great in-store experience."

Ulta Beauty also commented on @EsteeLaundry's post with a similar sentiment: "We are disappointed to hear that anything like this could have happened in our stores. We stand for equality, inclusivity and acceptance and strive to create a space that is welcoming to all. Please know we take this very seriously and always look to understand how we can improve."

Still, some Instagram users weren't satisfied, like @indian_beast, who wrote "@ultabeauty.... so exactly which steps are you taking?"

Instagram account @HereForTheTea2 also addressed the controversy, posting several messages from Ulta employees that supported the accusations. One message read: "I definitely noticed a racial bias when it came to stealing. One of my managers was obsessed with loss prevention and even said something along the lines that there was a type of people that stole."

At the same time, the account added the following text to their original post: "I do think it’s important to note that I’m not saying this is common practice at EVERY Ulta store and racial profiling isn’t exclusive to Ulta, obviously. It happens EVERYWHERE. My hope in sharing the experiences of others is that @ultabeauty will focus on making everyone’s shopping experience pleasant, regardless of their race."

Several Instagram users shared similar statements, including @adriannschneider who told @EsteeLaundry she has never been encouraged to racially profile shoppers while working for Ulta: "This is so bizarre. I work at ulta and I love my job so much. It never was it even implied to follow POC. Yes we are trained to follow people we deem suspicious that’s not a secret but it’s based on their body movement, language and if they have a big open bag. I’m really disappointed that other locations have such ignorant management."

Another Ulta employee told @HereForTheTea2 that a training video employees are required to watch addresses the topic of racial profiling and how "you should not assume a POC is stealing."

Other brands have faced similar accusations. Just two months ago, fellow beauty retailer Sephora closed its stores for one hour in June to host diversity training for employees after singer SZA revealed she was racially profiled at one of its California stores. Starbucks also shut down 8,000 of its stores for a day last year following a racial discrimination incident at a Philadelphia store.

Ash is happy that her story has reached so many people and said Ulta has reached out to schedule a time to talk with her. She's hopeful that together, they can enact meaningful change.

"I’m hoping Ulta can implement something to try and fix this culture of racism that is so obviously present in their store work environments. So many people have reached out to me to share their similar racist experiences as customers, along with former and current employees confirming that this issue is omnipresent and systemic. Both customers and employees have told me that they have gone to corporate before to report these issues and nothing was done, so I am hoping this time will be different," she said.