Once again, the value of relatively inexpensive point-of-sale video systems has been demonstrated — this time in the hate-crime-hoax category. A pastor at an Austin, Texas church that proclaims itself an LGBT-welcoming congregation accused a Whole Foods bakery of decorating a cake with a homophobic slur, launching a lawsuit and creating a media stir complete with pictures of the cake itself. But when Whole Foods announced that it had video of the transaction and planned legal steps of its own against The Church of the Open Doors, suddenly Pastor Jordan Brown started backing away … at light speed:
Whole Foods called Brown’s accusations “fraudulent” and released surveillance video from the day that Brown had bought the cake. It said that it planned on taking legal action against Brown.
On May 16, Brown released a statement to the media saying he is dropping the lawsuit. Brown said Whole Foods did “nothing wrong” and apologized for his actions. His full statement is below:
Today I am dismissing my lawsuit against Whole Foods Market. The company did nothing wrong. I was wrong to pursue this matter and use the media to perpetuate this story. I want to apologize to Whole Foods and its team members for questioning the company’s commitment to its values, and especially the bakery associate who I understand was put in a terrible position because of my actions. I apologize to the LGBT community for diverting attention from real issues. I also want to apologize to my partner, my family, my church family, and my attorney.
Translation: Please don’t sue me. Brown sang a different song to the media in mid-April, complete with tears and claims of triggering previous hate-crime incidents in his life:
Whole Foods actually announced the lawsuit a month ago, claiming all along that Brown had tried to run a scam against the chain. They released the video just a day after Brown’s tearful press conference that showed that Brown had seen the cake before purchasing it. Oh, and one other thing … that bakery employee who decorated the cake turns out to be “a member of the LGBT community,” too. D’oh!
At the time, the Austin American Statesman wondered whether the surveillance system actually contradicted Brown’s claims:
The answer to the Statesman’s question is clearly yes — or else Brown would not have issued that statement this morning. In retrospect, it seems odd that anyone would have bought this three-layer hoax at all. Whole Foods concentrates on the urban, upscale market that would be most turned off by the kind of derogatory slur that Brown accused their bakery of leaving on his cake. It seems beyond stupid to have tried a hoax like this in a well-capitalized chain that would have point-of-sale video systems. And finally, even the picture itself was a giveaway. The slur was clearly done separately from the rest of the decoration.
What was the point of this exercise, anyway? Perhaps Brown wanted to make himself the new leader for activists in the Austin community. Instead, he’s now the latest in a long line of hate-crime hoaxers, a trend that has gotten so bad that it might make for a bigger market for lawyers than actual hate crimes. Whole Foods will probably drop their lawsuit now that Brown has publicly admitted his fraud, but they shouldn’t. And Brown should be banished into oblivion too, especially by his church and his allies, but that probably won’t happen either.
Addendum: Perhaps in this age of hoaxes, even smaller businesses might want to invest in relatively inexpensive video surveillance systems. All it takes is one incident like this to make it pay off.
Update: Kevin Glass notes that Whole Foods will drop the lawsuit, and laments the decision:
On the other hand, what would they have recovered from Brown? He’s already on his way to Oblivion, with a side jaunt through Infamy. They have gotten pretty much everything they could have hoped to achieve in the countersuit already, including the public humiliation of Brown as a hoaxer. At this point they’d have to spend a ton of money on legal costs that would never be recovered, and the fight might end up perpetuating the story rather than letting it die.