Warning: This post contains graphic language.
Anyone who has paid a visit to the Whole Foods flagship store in Austin, knows the location is the gem in the pricey grocery chain’s organic crown. As one reviewer once put it: “The 80,000-square-foot market, bar, eatery, makeup counter and pick-up joint (we suspect) makes our local branches look like the neighborhood 7-11.”
But one visitor to the Austin location says he was not so enthusiastic about a recent trip. An openly gay pastor in the city where Whole Foods was founded has filed a lawsuit against the chain, claiming it sold him a cake that read “Love Wins F-g.”
But commenters on social media wondered why the pastor didn’t immediately notice the anti-gay slur, accusing him of altering the cake, as did Whole Foods, which countersued, claiming that the pastor made “fraudulent” accusations.
In a video posted last week, Jordan Brown of Austin’s Church of Open Doors said he ordered a cake from Whole Foods meant to read “Love Wins” — a slogan associated with the movement to legalize same-sex marriage. But when he picked up the cake April 14, it had a quite different message, he said.
“When I got into my vehicle, I looked inside and saw they had wrote ‘Love Wins F-g’ on it,” Brown said, holding a receipt he said was from the cake. “You can see it nice and clear. Also, it is still in a sealed box. As you see, I have not opened up this box yet.”
Brown said he contacted Whole Foods to complain and said that an employee was at first “extremely apologetic.” But the employee later called to say that his own employee did not write it, Brown said. Brown was confused — and angry.
“My question is: Who could have done this?” Brown said. “It’s still inside of a sealed box.” He added: “This is discrimination.”
Austin’s Kaplan Law Firm, which recently represented a gay couple seeking a marriage license in Hood County, evidently agrees there is cause for action. The firm filed a suit on Brown’s behalf — one not alleging discrimination but alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress. After Whole Foods denied writing the slur on the cake, the suit said, even the offer of a gift card and a replacement cake was off the table.
“Pastor Jordan spent the remainder of the day in tears,” the suit read. “He was and is extremely upset.” It added: “The potential for racial, sexual, religious, and anti-LGBT slurs to be written on personalized cakes is high, and Whole Foods knew or should have known that slurs or harassing messages could be written on cakes and then presented to a customer without any oversight or prior warning.”
At a news conference, as KXAN reported, Brown said: “Saying f-g is the same as calling me a n—–.”
“Pastor Brown never asked for this to happen,” Brown’s attorney, Austin Kaplan, said in a statement Monday. “He continues to be overwhelmed by the feelings of pain, anguish, and humiliation because of this incident. … 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.”
Whole Foods, founded in Austin in 1980, first denied writing the message.
“The team member wrote ‘Love Wins’ at the top of the cake as requested by the guest and that’s exactly how the cake was packaged and sold at the store,” the company said in a statement. “Our team members do not accept or design bakery orders that include language or images that are offensive. Whole Foods Market has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination. We stand behind our bakery team member, who is part of the LGBTQ community, and the additional team members from the store, who confirmed the cake was decorated with only the message ‘Love Wins.’”
Then it announced Tuesday that it is countersuing Jordan and his counsel, as the Statesman newspaper noted. The suit claimed 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.”
“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,” the company wrote in a statement that laid out its case as follows:
- “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.”
Whole Foods posted the security footage online. A man that looks like Brown can be seen paying at the register at the bottom right.
According to Inside Edition, Brown “grew up in a family of church leaders and began preaching at 14 years old,” founding the Church of Open Doors two years ago. He is a member of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce a, group that represents Austin’s LGBT-friendly businesses, according to Inside Edition.
Meanwhile, the Internet wondered why Brown did not see the message when he first picked up the cake.
“Sorry, I can’t believe you bought a cake with a custom message and did not see it through the window,” one YouTube commenter wrote. “Feels like a scam. I’m straight and they call me a f-g all the time. No big deal. Who did it? I think you did it.”
On the Church of Open Doors’ Facebook page, a purported cake decorator even attempted to deconstruct the design.
“That cake was obviously altered,” the commenter wrote. “As a cake decorator I spotted the covered up ‘purple’ icing immediately, on the original lettering that said ‘LOVE WINS’ The piping on the ADDED ON word ‘F-G’ wasn’t even the same TIP size as the original lettering … He obviously thought media coverage would be in his favor! Probably thought he would get rich and famous!”
A biography on the website of Church Of Open Doors said that Brown, who recently got engaged, moved to Austin in 2013 “with a vision to create a place where all can experience God.”
“At this time ‘Church Of Open Doors’ was born!” it said. “With a love for people, Pastor Jordan inspires to make an impact in the lives of those who have been outcast, abandoned, and confused about what church really stands for.” A description of the congregation read: “We’re a non-denominational, non-traditional, Christ-centered, welcoming, LGBT-friendly, worshiping church!”