AUSTIN — Whole Foods Market Inc. is fighting back with legal action and security video it says contradicts a pastor’s claim that he received a cake from the store with a gay slur on it.
In announcing his lawsuit against the Austin-based grocer, Jordan Brown, an openly gay pastor, said he ordered a cake last week at the store’s flagship location with the phrase “Love Wins” on it. Instead, he said, he received a cake with the message and an additional slur.
“For me, it was humiliating,” Brown said at a news conference Monday (April 18) as he held back tears.
Austin Kaplan, Brown’s attorney, filed a lawsuit for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
On Tuesday, Whole Foods fired back saying it’s standing by its employees and had filed its own lawsuit accusing Brown of defamation.
“A countersuit this quick is very, very rare,” said attorney Brad Bonilla of Bonilla Law Firm in Austin. “And I think the message with filing a countersuit that quick suggests that Whole Foods is vigorously intending to fight this and that they really believe this suit is without merit and baseless.”
Whole Foods calls the accusations fraudulent and released video of Brown checking out that they say proves it. According to the company, when the cashier scans the UPC on the box the label is on the top of the box. That counters a video released by Brown’s attorney. In it Brown says the box is unopened and still has the label, but that label is on the side of the box.
Whole Foods is also filing sanctions against Brown’s attorney which would require him to pay all costs associated with the lawsuits.
“An attorney has an ethical duty to ensure that they have a reasonable belief that this claim is not frivolous. And so the attorney would have to do some type of investigation to ensure that this is a viable case to present,” Bonilla said.
Bonilla said Brown’s attorney now has to find more evidence to support his client’s claim.
“In four days, you would hope that the attorney had tried to interview witnesses, had tried to substantiate phone records about when the calls were made, that there is some sort of objective proof that supports what your client’s saying happened really did happen,” Bonilla said.
In its statement Tuesday, Whole Foods said: “Mr. Brown admits that he was in possession and control of the cake until he posted his video, which showed the UPC label on the bottom and side of the box. After reviewing our security footage of Mr. Brown, it’s clear that the UPC label was in fact on top of the cake box, not on the side of the package. This is evident as the cashier scans the UPC code on top of the box.”
The statement continued: “We stand behind our bakery team member, who is part of the LGBTQ, and we appreciate the team members and shoppers who recognize that this claim is completely false and directly contradicts Whole Foods Market’s inclusive culture, which celebrates diversity.”
The company ended the statement with a photo of staff members and the hashtag, #LOVEWINS.
Responding to Whole Foods’ countersuit, Kaplan said in a statement: “At this time we are aware of the Whole Foods’ press release, the alleged security video, and the countersuit by Whole Foods against Pastor Brown, and we are currently investigating these allegations.”
Kaplan said he is preserving the cake and the box as evidence.
(Reporting by KVUE in Austin)