Māori teenager devastated after Tauranga Farmers employee calls her 'undesirable', asks her to leave store

A Rotorua teenager is devastated after a Tauranga Farmers employee called her "undesirable" and asked her to leave the store on Saturday.

Aiomai Nuku-Tarawhiti, 15, and her cousin, Shae Brown, 25, were visiting the Tauriko store to do some Christmas shopping over the weekend. 

Brown said when they arrived a staff member asked if they needed help, and they said they were fine. They continued looking around but 15 minutes later another staff member approached them and told Aiomai she looked "undesirable" and needed to leave the store.

Brown said the experience was heartbreaking. 

"She pointed at my cousin [Aiomai] and said, 'you look undesirable, I don't think you're going to buy anything and I will have to ask you to leave'.

"We were in disbelief over what was happening to us...we walked out and once we got back to the car we were obviously upset - bawling our eyes out. My cousin was beside herself crying and shaking.

"I don't even know if Aiomai is going to recover from that. We are just so upset, we feel traumatised, we feel embarrassed. There's no other word to describe it. I wish it was me that the woman spoke to because now my cousin has to live with that for the rest of her life."

Farmers said they take the allegation seriously and an investigation is underway. 

''This matter has been brought to our attention and we are currently undertaking an investigation as to exactly what occurred. We have already contacted the family on this.

''The Company take these types of allegations very seriously and once we have completed our investigation we will work with the family directly.''

Brown said the pair were looking for a perfume for Aiomai's mother when the incident occurred. 

"We were looking around the shop searching for this perfume bottle. So we went to the candle section, had a look there, and went over to the perfume counter. We were approached by a staff member to ask if we needed assistance again to which we said, 'No thank you'. 

"That's when she pointed at my cousin and said, 'You look undesirable.' I told this lady what we were doing and then she said, 'Okay that's fine but I will have to be with you around the shop'.

"I said, 'No, that's okay we are going to leave' and I said, 'this is racism' and the lady denied it."

Shae Brown, 25, says it was deeply upsetting.
Shae Brown, 25, says it was deeply upsetting. Photo credit: Supplied

They left the store but Brown went back to complain after calming down in the car. She said she asked to speak to the manager before telling him what happened. She said the manager got the staff member who said it didn't happen but "sincerely apologised". Brown said Aiomai then explained how she felt and the staff member said, "I'm sorry you took it that way".

Brown said the apology didn't feel genuine and the whole incident was traumatising. She said she believes it was racial profiling. 

"My cousin now has to live with the word undesirable". 

Aiomai's grandfather, Rotorua kaumātua Hone Tarawhiti, told Newshub the incident was unacceptable. 

"[It] was racist, unlawful discrimination [and] intimidation of our young Māori rangatahi and highly offensive to label an innocent 15-year-old girl as 'undesirable'."

He said he called the store on Sunday and complained but felt they didn't take responsibility for the incident.

Tarawhiti says he wants the shop assistant to explain why she spoke to his mokopuna like that, and to apologise. He said he's also made a complaint to the Race Relations Conciliator Meng Foon and the Children's Commissioner.