Cathy-Marie Hamlet started her Facebook post with the good news: She’d gotten engaged.
But her fiance kept getting interrupted, she said, as he proposed from the lawn of hard cider company Angry Orchard’s tree-filled, 60-acre property in New York’s Hudson Valley. Security intruded on the couple’s happy moment three times to accuse Hamlet’s boyfriend of stealing a T-shirt, including once while he popped the question.
Staffers followed Hamlet and her fiance, who are black, to the parking lot as they left, the 32-year-old wrote in her post, which had been shared more than 5,000 times Tuesday afternoon. She believes they were racially profiled.
“I have never been so humiliated in my life,” she said. “[M]yself and some of my friends left Angry Orchard in tears.”
Angry Orchard has replaced members of the security team involved and removed the manager who was on duty, Jessica Paar, a spokeswoman for Boston Beer Co. – Angry Orchard’s owner – told The Washington Post in a statement Tuesday. The company is also launching new, mandatory training on “security awareness and unconscious bias” for the staff.
“We badly mishandled the situation and our team overreacted,” Paar said, adding, “The situation doesn’t reflect our values of respect for all and creating a welcoming environment for all our guests.”
Paar did not immediately respond to questions clarifying the company’s actions against the employees involved.
Hamlet wrote on Facebook that she and her fiance, identified by NBC News as Clyde Jackson, had left New York City on Sunday for Angry Orchard’s farm in Walden. The occasion: Jackson’s 40th birthday. Six friends came along.
A woman from security at the cider company approached the couple before they’d sat down at a table outside, Hamlet said. The employee apologized and said she’d have to check Jackson’s back pocket, explaining that someone told her Jackson stole a shirt from the gift store.
Jackson emptied out his pockets while trying to hide the ring he was about to propose with, Hamlet recalled. No T-shirt was found.
Jackson launched into his proposal, she said, but before he could finish, the employee was back – this time saying she needed to check Hamlet’s bag because someone told her Jackson gave her the stolen item.
Hamlet said she did as asked, even though her bag was too small to fit a shirt. But she questioned the woman’s motives: “I know you’re just doing your job, but I can’t help but wonder if this is because we’re Black,” her Facebook post said. “We’re the only Black people here at your establishment.”
The woman denied that race was a factor and went away, Hamlet said, leaving Jackson to finish his proposal – and Hamlet to accept. People cheered. The friends who accompanied Hamlet and Jackson to the farm joined them, hugging and congratulating the newly engaged couple.
That’s when the Angry Orchard employee came back a third time, Hamlet said. The security woman said that she hadn’t realized the friends were a group and that now she’d need to check all of their purses and pockets. More security workers came over, and Hamlet says she found her party facing six employees who claimed patrons, too, had witnessed Jackson stealing a T-shirt.
“I felt humiliated, especially after one of my white friends made a point of asking them to check her bag for the T-shirt, but they refused to do so,” Hamlet told NBC.
“Call the police! I saw you steal it,” Hamlet said one of the security people shouted to another.
When Hamlet told the employees to check their security cameras – which the staff said existed – the employees started filming the group and took a picture of Hamlet’s license plate, according to Hamlet. Asked whether Angry Orchard had reviewed security footage, Paar told The Post she would have to look into it.
With the dispute escalating, the couple and their friends “decided to leave rather than be attacked,” Hamlet wrote online, saying she has “no reason to steal a $28 T-shirt.”
She vowed not to drink Angry Orchard again.
Angry Orchard said in a statement tweeted out Tuesday that it began investigating the incident Hamlet described as soon as it learned about the events. The security team involved “approached a group of guests based on what they thought was credible information at the time,” Angry Orchard said in an earlier statement to People magazine.
— Angry Orchard (@AngryOrchard) July 23, 2019
Paar told The Post that she reached out to Hamlet and spoke with her on the phone Monday to apologize.
Hamlet did not respond to The Post’s inquiries, and The Post could not reach Jackson.
Angry Orchard was the latest company to scramble to address stories of employees singling out black customers. Starbucks faced accusations of racial profiling last year after a store manager called the police on two black men as they waited for a meeting. The incident led the coffee chain to close more than 8,000 U.S. stores for a daylong staff training on racial bias. Companies like Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, Old Navy and Walmart have grappled with similar scandals, responding with investigations, new training and firings amid outrage.
Eric Yaverbaum, chairman at public relations firm Ericho Communications, told The Post that he thinks Hamlet’s story should prompt other companies to think more proactively about addressing racial profiling with their employees – to prevent incidents, rather than apologize afterward.
“The worst time to prepare is when the tide’s rising,” he said. “The tide’s rising on this issue, period. . . . Address that in your workplace before it becomes a problem.”
Hamlet’s dismay at Angry Orchard was about more than the spoiling of a joyful day, and she closed her Facebook post by telling the company that if they didn’t want black patrons, it should “put a sign on the door so that we know we are not welcome.”
“It’s sad that in 2019 we still need to have these conversations,” Hamlet told NBC.