The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Public Affairs is suing Whole Foods in an attempt to "reinstate a former employee with full back wages and benefits after the
company allegedly fired the worker for voicing and reporting workplace health
concerns regarding a raw sewage spillage at its store in Miami Beach".
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of
Florida, Miami Division, according to a release issued by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Miami New Times covered the story back in 2009, when said whistleblower (we called her Janet) told us how "brown water -- along with chunks of toilet paper -- leaked onto the floor of the
cheese and prepared foods sections". Janet took pictures of the mess and sent them to Whole Foods regional offices along with a complaint. In exchange for her dilligence, she was fired by executive marketing coordinator Russ Benblatt for reporting "misleading" information.
That same executive marketing coordinator sent an email to Short Order recently, stating:
"Whole Foods Market denies these accusations. The EEOC investigated and
dismissed these allegations earlier this year, finding no probable cause
for wrongful termination. While we cannot discuss the former Team
Member's employment with us, we deny that she was retaliated against. It
is important to note that she was not the first or only person to
report the problem."
Here's where I get pissed off. First of all, I shopped at that particular Whole Foods at least twice a week while I lived on the beach. I was swayed by their promise of wholesome foods and the company's core values of "Supporting Team Member Excellence and Happiness", "Satisfying and Delighting Our Customers" and "Caring About Our Communities & Our Environment." Call me a sucker for warm and fuzzy buzz words, but I'm all for a company that cares about their people and their community.
Apparently, I'm not "satisfied and delighted" that I shopped for cheese (probably during that time) while there was literally crap all over the floors. And I'm sure that the team member who was fired for sharing important health and safety information didn't feel like she was being "supported."
In fact, Whole Foods seems more like a police state than a friendly organic grocery chain. Recently, Alex Elman was in town to promote her wines. The self-billed blind wine chick wanted to chat and we agreed to meet at that same Whole Foods. We sat down for no more than a minute before her PR person was notified by the store manager that we weren't allowed to meet in the store. At the tables for customers. Even though we were purchasing drinks and Elman was a vendor ... and blind (yes, I'll play that card here). The reason? I was press and couldn't even officially walk into the store without permission from their corporate office. Even though the story was about wine and not necessarily about Whole Foods.
So we traipsed in the rain across the street to Starbucks -- myself, Alex, and her seeing eyed-dog Hanley. Starbucks didn't mind that I pulled out a notebook and tape recorder. Hell, I probably could have filmed a small documentary for all they cared.
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After that incident (and another one where a manager asked me to leave for taking a picture on my iPhone), I find it easy to believe that Whole Foods would fire a whistleblowing employee.
We all know that a lot of major corporations treat their workers less than stellar. But the entire point of paying a lot more f**king money for eggs at Whole Foods is that visions of clean aisles, happy chickens, and happy employees dance in my head as I'm shelling out my hard-earned dollars at the register.
When that vision is replaced by lawsuits and someone mopping up piss from the floor as I'm perusing the Manchego, somehow all my good feelings are gone. Thank god for the Fresh Market.