A Texas pastor filed a lawsuit Monday alleging he ordered a custom cake from a Whole Foods Market inscribed with the words "Love Wins," but after he picked it up, it instead said, "Love Wins Fag."
Jordan Brown, a pastor at a nondenominational Christian church, is suing the grocery chain for intentionally inflicting emotional distress, arguing the company is responsible for its employees and failed to adequately respond when he complained about the cake last week.
He filed a photo of the cake along with his lawsuit.
"The company had every opportunity to stop something like this from happening, and if you look at the picture, the company's name is right on the box," said Austin Kaplan, a lawyer representing Brown. "As far as we're concerned, the company is to blame here."
Whole Foods, however, wholly denies the allegations.
In a statement sent to BuzzFeed News, the grocery chain said an employee in the bakery department "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."
Further, the company said, "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.'"
At about noon on April 14, Brown visited a Whole Foods in Austin where he selected a blank, pre-baked cake and asked an employee in the bakery department to personalize it with the words "Love Wins" — a slogan used to celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling for marriage equality.
The employee took the cake "to the prep table and began writing on it in icing," the lawsuit filed in Travis County District Court continues. "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."
Jordan did not notice the word "fag" on the cake until he was in his car, the suit says, so he called the store to complain.
Two hours later, a manager told him, "Whole Foods had come to the conclusion that the store had not done anything wrong, and that their bakery associate had done nothing wrong," the complaint said. "Pastor Jordan asked [the manager] directly, 'If the bakery associate did not do this, then who wrote this on my cake?" [The manager] responded to the effect of, 'I don’t know, and we can’t help you,' and hung up the phone."
"Pastor Jordan spent the remainder of the day in tears," says the suit, which seeks a jury trial and compensation for emotional damages. "It is impossible to calculate the emotional distress that these events have caused."
Kaplan, the lawyer, said his client only went to court because the company failed to apologize. "We thought Whole Foods would take this seriously. We have no choice but to file a lawsuit."
He also doubted the company's claim that it hadn't written the offensive term, saying, "That cake was sealed. The icing was the same. It's so disappointing and frustrating."
Whole Foods also seems frustrated.
"Our team members do not accept or design bakery orders that include language or images that are offensive," the company said in a statement. "Whole Foods Market has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination."
Texas lacks a statewide law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. On the other hand, the city of Austin does prohibit such discrimination. Kaplan said he may pursue a remedy under the city's ordinance.
"The Austin Human Rights Commission meets on Monday, and I expect that we will be there," Kapaln said. He said he wants to work with Whole Foods "so this never happens to someone else."
Brown talks about his experience here:
Read the full lawsuit here:
Dominic Holden is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Dominic Holden at email@example.com.
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