Openly gay pastor Jordan D. Brown, founder of the Church of Open Doors in Austin, Texas is suing Whole Foods, alleging a cake he had purchased from the Whole Foods flagship store on North Lamar had LOVE WINS FAG written in icing on it. Whole Foods responded, calling the accusations fraudulent, saying the company intends to take legal action against both Mr. Brown and his attorney.
[gdlr_heading tag=”h4″ color=”#ffffff” background=”#000000″ font_weight=”bold”]THURSDAY, APRIL 14, 2016[/gdlr_heading]
According to the lawsuit that was filed on April 18 in Travis County District court:
On April 14, 2016, Pastor Jordan went to the Whole Foods flagship location at 525 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, Travis County, Texas 78703, to pick up a cake for one of his congregation members. He was planning to deliver the cake around lunchtime as a surprise gift.
Specifically, Pastor Jordan was looking for a cake with the personalized message: “Love Wins.” Pastor Jordan approached the bakery counter, pointed to a blank, pre-frosted cake in the display case, and asked for the words “Love Wins” to be added to the cake.
The Whole Foods bakery associate removed the cake selected by Pastor Jordan from the display case. She brought it over to the prep table and began writing on it in icing. She then sealed it with a Whole Foods sticker, and handed it to Pastor Jordan. Once it was sealed, there was no way to alter the cake without breaking the Whole Foods sticker.
Pastor Jordan rushed out the door with the cake.
He set the cake on the floor of the passenger seat side of the car. While stopped at a stop light, Pastor Jordan looked down and saw for the first time that the cake had a terrible anti-gay slur written directly across the middle of it.
He immediately pulled the car over.
He first called the Whole Foods corporate office and left a detailed voicemail describing what had happened. The voicemail included his name and explained that he had just left the store on Lamar where the bakery associate wrote an offensive and inappropriate message on the cake. His voicemail also requested that someone call him back immediately. However, no one from Whole Foods’ corporate office returned his call that day.
He then called the store on Lamar directly, and spoke to Team Leader Geoff Nunez. Pastor Jordan told Nunez that he had just left the store where he had purchased a cake. He also explained that he had asked the bakery associate to write “Love Wins” in icing, and she wrote “LOVE WINS FAG” instead.
Nunez was apologetic stating that this was completely inappropriate and that he planned to terminate whoever had done this. He offered Pastor Jordan a gift card and said Whole Foods would replace the cake. However, Nunez also requested that Pastor Jordan send pictures of the cake to his email address, and said he was going to investigate the matter, and call him back within approximately two hours.
At 2:49 pm on April 14, 2016, Pastor Jordan emailed Nunez three pictures of the cake still inside the Whole Foods packaging with the word “FAG” featured prominently in the center of the cake. He also attached a picture of the receipt for his purchase to the email. The picture of the cake Pastor Jordan sent is attached hereto as Exhibit A.
Approximately two hours later, Nunez called back and said that Whole Foods had come to the conclusion that the store had not done anything wrong, and that their bakery associate had done nothing wrong. Nothing in his statement revealed whether or not he had actually spoken to the bakery associate or what kind of investigation he performed. Pastor Jordan asked Nunez directly, “if the bakery associate did not do this, then who wrote this on my cake?” Nunez responded to the effect of, “I don’t know, and we can’t help you,” and hung up the phone. This call lasted approximately 54 seconds. There was no apology, and it appeared that the offer for the gift card and replacement cake had been revoked.
[gdlr_heading tag=”h4″ color=”#ffffff” background=”#000000″ font_weight=”bold”]FRIDAY, APRIL 15, 2016[/gdlr_heading]
On April 15, Kaplan Law Firm, which represented Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton in their successful 2015 federal lawsuit to secure their same-sex marriage license from the County Clerk of Hood County, Texas, reached out to Whole Foods’ corporate office on behalf of Brown.
After receiving no substantive response for more than three days, the firm filed the lawsuit on behalf of the pastor.
[gdlr_heading tag=”h4″ color=”#ffffff” background=”#000000″ font_weight=”bold”]MONDAY, APRIL 18, 2016[/gdlr_heading]
“Pastor Brown never asked for this to happen. He continues to be overwhelmed by the feelings of pain, anguish, and humiliation because of this incident,” says Brown’s attorney Austin Kaplan in a statement. “He frequently shopped at Whole Foods, which makes this all the more shocking and disappointing. What really concerns him is knowing that unless some action is taken, this kind of thing could happen again, and that someone else might have to go through a similarly excruciating experience.”
On the morning of April 18, Brown posted on Twitter “LOVE WINS FAG. That’s not the cake I ordered, @WholeFoods and I am offended for myself & the entire #LGBT community” along with a photograph of a cake in a Whole Foods box that quickly made its way across the social networks where it was picked up by the media. The response was mixed, ranging from outrage at Whole Foods for letting it happen to skepticism about the authenticity of the cake.
— Jordan D Brown (@PasJordanBrown) April 18, 2016
About 30 minutes later, Brown posted another tweet announcing that there would be a press conference later that afternoon.
We're having a press conference at 3:00pm CST at 98 San Jacinto Blvd Suite #540 #lgbt
— Jordan D Brown (@PasJordanBrown) April 18, 2016
At the press conference, Kaplan laid out the grounds of the lawsuit against Whole Foods.
Whole Foods responded with statement, denying that its employees did anything wrong and that the company has a strict policy that prohibits team members from accepting or designing bakery orders that include language or images that are offensive … and that the bakery team member that Brown alleged had written the gay slur on the gay was in fact part of the LGBTQ community.
[gdlr_heading tag=”h4″ color=”#ffffff” background=”#000000″ font_weight=”bold”]TUESDAY, APRIL 19, 2016[/gdlr_heading]
Whole Foods updated their statement and posted video from their security system on to YouTube. In Brown’s suit, he claims that after the team member had written on the cake “She then sealed it with a Whole Foods sticker, and handed it to Pastor Jordan. Once it was sealed, there was no way to alter the cake without breaking the Whole Foods sticker.”
Photos that Brown sent to Whole Foods and posted online clearly showed the UPC sticker sealing the box on the side and bottom. The video, which shows Brown checking out, clearly shows the UPC sticker on top of the box and the cashier scanning the UPC sticker on the top of the box.
After a deeper investigation of Mr. Brown’s claim, we believe his accusations are fraudulent and we intend to take legal action against both Mr. Brown and his attorney. Here’s what we know:
Our bakery team member wrote “Love Wins” at the top of the cake, which was visible to Mr. Brown through the clear portion of the packaging. That’s exactly how the cake was packaged and sold at the store. Whole Foods Market has a strict policy that prohibits team members from accepting or designing bakery orders that include language or images that are offensive.
Mr. Brown admits that he was in sole 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, which you can view here.
We stand behind our bakery team member, who is part of the LGBTQ community, 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.
In their countersuit, Whole Foods says Brown “intentionally, knowingly and falsely accused Whole Foods and its employees of writing the homophobic slur … on a custom made cake that he ordered from WFM’s Lamar Store in Austin…” The suit not only denies those claims but also accuses Brown of acting “with malice, and he has damaged the reputation and business of WFM.” The lawsuit seeks at least $100,000 in damages.
Since Whole Foods released the video, which called in to question Brown’s account of the situation, the response online has been harsh. People have been going to Facebook and posting negative reviews about Brown on the Church of Open Doors’ page. By Tuesday afternoon, the Kaplan Law Firm had pulled the media links to the suit against Whole Foods from its website.