An Apple store worker in Georgia refused to sell an iPad to a teenager after overhearing her speaking in the Iranian language Farsi.
Sahar Sabet was informing her uncle how much the tablet cost when the Alpharetta store worker asked her what language she was speaking.
When she replied, adding she was Iranian, he told her: “I just can’t sell this to you. Our countries have such bad relations.”
The 19-year-old, whose first language is English, told WSBTV she was shocked by the refusal, adding it was: “Very hurtful, very embarrassing. I actually walked out in tears.”
When Sabat, who is a US citizen, returned to the store with a WSBTV reporter, she was again refused the sale.
The store's manager showed them Apple’s corporate policy on export sales, which in part reads: “The US holds complete embargoes against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.”
The policy adds that Apple forbids the export of its products to those countries “without prior authorisation by the US Government.”
The sanctions do not restrict the sale of products to Iranians living in the US. But Apple could be held liable if it sold products in the US knowing they would be sent to Iran, Washington lawyer Farhad Alavi told the BBC.
Alavi, who specialises in international trade, said Apple would have had grounds to refuse the sale had the worker suspected she planned to ship the device to Iran.
But speaking in Farsi, Sabat told the BBC Persian Service that she made no such suggestion.
She said: “It’s discrimination, we are being racially profiled. He didn’t have any business asking me what country I was from.”
Apple did not provide an official statement on the matter, instead referring WSBTV to the aforementioned policy.
Sabat, who telephoned Apple’s customer relations and received an apology, describes the policy as “confusing” and “inconsistent” – particularly after being informed she would be able to buy the product online.
Fellow customer Zack Jafarzadeh reported a similar incident when he tried to buy an iPhone at a different Atlanta store.
He and his friend were denied a sale after an Apple employee heard them conversing in Farsi.
Jafarzadeh told WSBTV: "We never talked about him going back to Iran or anything like that.
"I feel like this is a bit of racial profiling against Iranians and I'm appalled.
"I would say if you’re trying to buy an iPhone, don’t tell them anything about Iran. That would be your best bet."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement after Sabat's experience, calling on Apple to change its corporate policy on sales to Iran, the Tehran Times reports.
“Apple must revise its policies to ensure that customers do not face discriminatory treatment based on their religion, ethnicity, or national origin,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said.