Two African-American college students from Buffalo claim in a federal civil rights lawsuit that they were treated like criminals and abruptly ordered to leave when they went to an Amherst toy store to buy Christmas presents last year.
David J. Burgin, 24, and Micheal R. Brundige, 25, say they went to the Toys R Us store to spend hundreds of dollars each on toys for children in their family. But instead of welcoming their business, they claim, a store manager angrily threw them out and muttered a racist insult about them in the parking lot.
Toys R Us officials have denied the men were mistreated. An official said Tuesday the allegations are "completely without merit."
The two African-American men filed an $11 million discrimination lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court. The case has been assigned to District Judge John T. Elfvin and Magistrate Judge Carol E. Heckman.
"We were there to spend money, to buy things for our kids like anybody else. They treated us like we were there to steal something," Burgin said. "I already had given the money to the cashier, about $700 cash. The manager gave me the money back. She said, 'We don't want your money. We don't want your business.' "
Burgin is an engineering student at Erie Community College-North, and his stepbrother, Brundige, is studying for a master's degree in business administration at Canisius College. Brundige is the junior varsity basketball coach at Turner-Carroll High School, and Burgin is a volunteer assistant coach.
The incident allegedly occurred on Dec. 20, 1996, in the Toys R Us store at 3030 Sheridan Drive. According to court papers filed by their attorney, Rodger P. Doyle Jr., the two men arrived at the store late that night and were the last two customers to check out close to the midnight closing time.
Because they were buying birthday and Christmas presents for quite a few young family members, each man had two shopping carts filled with toys and were waiting to pay a cashier, the suit claims.
"We were waiting there to pay for the merchandise, and the cashier was taking Dave first, and from about two registers over, we heard the manager say, 'Is there a problem?' " Brundige said.
"The cashier told her there was no problem. A few minutes later, the manager came over and asked again what the problem was. The clerk again told her there was no problem. Then, I looked at Dave and said, 'Why should there be a problem?' "
According to the two men, the manager became angry over Brundige's remark to his stepbrother, and she then brought a security guard over to order the two men to leave the store.
"(The manager) then came back again, and asked the security guard why we hadn't been kicked out yet," Burgin said. "I told her I already paid for my toys and was waiting for the stockboy to bring some things out of the back room. She took my money from the cashier, gave it back to me, and said she didn't want our business. She told the security officer to order us out."
Rebecca Caruso, communications vice president at the company's headquarters in Paramus, N.J., said she has not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment in specifics.
"What I can say, based on everything we've learned of the incident, is that (the complaint) is completely without merit," Ms. Caruso said.