Four former store detectives for CVS stores in New York City alleged in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday that supervisors at the drug chain ordered them to racially profile and target minority shoppers for shoplifting enforcement.

The employees, themselves minorities, described racially insulting language and explicit instructions to watch blacks and Hispanics because they were likely to steal. The four workers said they were eventually fired for complaining about the practices.

"CVS intentionally targets and racially profiles its Black and Hispanic shoppers based on the highly offensive, discriminatory and ill-founded institutional belief that these minority customers are criminals and thieves," lawyers for the ex-workers said in complaint filed in Manhattan.

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A spokeswoman at CVS headquarters in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, said, "We do not tolerate any policy or practice that discriminates against any group. We are shocked by the allegations . . . and we intend to defend against them vigorously."

The lawsuit echoes previous complaints against prominent stores, such as Macy's and Barneys New York. Both paid fines and agreed to reform their practices.