A day after it was accused of selling a cake with an anti-gay slur written on it to a gay Austin pastor, Whole Foods Market on Tuesday responded with full force – filing a counterlawsuit against its accuser, releasing a video that it said refutes part of his claim and adamantly denying any wrongdoing.
The accusations made by Jordan Brown, pastor of Church of Open Doors in Austin, “are fraudulent,” Austin-based Whole Foods said.
Brown on Monday said he purchased a cake from Whole Foods’ headquarters store on North Lamar Boulevard, and asked that the words “Love Wins” be written on it. He says that a Whole Foods employee also wrote a homophobic slur on the cake. He alleges that the employee sealed the box and that he didn’t notice the slur until after leaving the store. He said he contacted store officials but was told they did nothing wrong.
Brown posted an online video accusing Whole Foods of writing the slur on the cake, and filed a lawsuit against the company.
Whole Foods countersued Brown on Tuesday, flatly denying his allegations and saying 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 accuses Brown of acting “with malice, and he has damaged the reputation and business of WFM,” and seeks at least $100,000 in damages. Whole Foods is one of Austin’s highest-profile companies, with 91,000 workers in about 400 stores worldwide and about 2,500 employees in Central Texas.
Whole Foods also released security footage video from its North Lamar Boulevard store that it says shows Brown paying for the cake and contradicts the man’s claims. The video appears to show Brown glancing down at the box during checkout, and it shows a Whole Foods cashier scanning a label on the top of the cake box. In his video and in an online photo, the cake box Brown showed had no label on the top.
Whole Foods said Brown admitted 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 their 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,” Whole Foods said. “This is evident as the cashier scans the UPC code on top of the box … “
The company said it continues to stand behind its team member.
“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,” the company said.
Whole Foods did not make any of its employees available for interviews Tuesday.
Brown and his attorney Austin Kaplan did not respond to multiple messages left from the Austin American-Statesman throughout the day Tuesday seeking comment.
However, Tuesday afternoon Kaplan’s office released the following written 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.”
On Monday, Brown and Kaplan had conducted a news conference at the attorney’s Austin office, during which an emotional Brown said he was offended and humiliated. He said the cake brought back memories of being bullied and humiliated over his sexual orientation.
“I’m horrified that this has happened and I’m hopeful that through my actions I can protect others in the Austin LGBT community,” Brown said.
Brown’s lawsuit against Whole Foods seeks damages and monetary relief for mental anguish, court costs and other expenses.