Whole Foods: Stop treating adults with autism like they are animals
  • Petitioned Liz Burkhart

This petition was delivered to:

Press Officer/Whole Foods
Liz Burkhart
Press Officer/Whole Foods
Libba Letton
CEO/ Whole Foods
John Mackey

Whole Foods: Stop treating adults with autism like they are animals

    1. Emily Goldman
    2. Petition by

      Emily Goldman

      Milwaukee, United States

Whole Foods states that its "inclusive" stores treat customers with "courtesy and respect," but actions by their employees  and contractors show that training is needed before they begin to include persons with disabilities.

In early 2013, two security guards at a Milwaukee Whole Foods store told me that my 26-year-old brother with autism would not be allowed back in the store unless he was on a leash.  When my mother complained that evening, the assistant store manager was also disparaging of my brother.  After thousands of signatures on this petition, the local store has implemented some sort of training for employees, but it seems sorely inadequate and still does not require training of any kind for security guards. (More details on our story are below in the "News" section.)

What happened to my brother is not an isolated incident.

In Dallas in 2011, a 28-year-old man with autism was arrested for trespassing while he was shopping in a Whole Foods store.  Police were told to come because the man was “acting odd,” even though he stated that he had autism.  Whole Foods never apologized.  Several signers of this petition have also mentioned poor treatment of their family members with disabilities at Whole Foods.  We do not know how many other cases go unreported.

I want to ensure that effective training reaches all employees, both here and in other cities so that everyone who works in Whole Foods is prepared to treat people with disabilities with courtesy and respect.

Whole Foods website touts their extensive staff training and highlights their values including:

Our stores are "inclusive."  Everyone is welcome...

Customers are fellow human beings with feelings and emotions like our own; they are equals to be treated with courtesy and respect at all times.

I am asking the Whole Foods corporation to live up to their stated values by implementing formal, quality training for everyone who works in all their stores on how to interact with customers who have disabilities.

We -- the family, friends, and supporters of persons with disabilities -- urge Whole Foods to become a store that shares our commitment to human dignity.

Recent signatures


    1. More details about our experience

      Emily Goldman
      Petition Organiser

      In order to shorten the text above, I've transferred some of the details here:

      After I collected hundreds of signatures on this petition, and brought more attention through Twitter, the store manager called my mother. He removed one of the security guards, and defended the other. Once the national office of Whole Foods got involved, the store set up a training for some of the employees with the local autism society. I asked how many employees attended, but the national office told me that I was too “skeptical,” and refused to give details. Whole Foods also said that they had their own in-house trainer speak with the staff, but we do not have many specifics. They required no training of their contractors. Given my mother's subsequent conversations with employees and contractors, the trainings seem severely inadequate (more details below).

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    2. Reached 4,000 signatures
    3. My Mother's Report After Speaking With Whole Foods Employees

      Emily Goldman
      Petition Organiser

      I asked three employees "what do you know now you didn't know before the training." They could not think of anything. With the third person, I asked if the training was conducted by the Executive Director of the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin. He said no - he'd been trained by HR. The lady from the Autism Society only trained the team leaders. Then I asked what the team leader shared about the training with the Autism Society lady. He said nothing was shared.I then asked to meet with the US Security contractor on site. Her name was Faye. She told me she had received no training and was not told about any training. She then aggressively asked where I was from. I responded that I lived in the area and shopped in the store. I thought to myself - I'm glad she isn't having this conversation with Michael. If she can't carry on a civil conversation with an articulate corporate vice president, how would she deal with a non-verbal young man with autism.

    4. Reached 3,000 signatures
    5. Huffington Post Writes about the Incident and the Petition!

      Emily Goldman
      Petition Organiser
      Whole Foods: Sorry For Telling Autistic Shopper To Wear A Leash

      After a security guard at Whole Foods shamed her autistic brother, Emily Goldman took to the Internet to get the store to apologize and to change their staff training policies. Earlier this month, Goldman's brother, Michael -- who doesn't speak -- took some food from the hot bar as the two shopped at a Whole Foods in Milwaukee, FOX6 reports.

    6. Reached 1,500 signatures
    7. More Training Updates

      Emily Goldman
      Petition Organiser

      I contacted Whole Foods. They said they had never planned to bring in the Autism Society this week. They told me that their in-house trainer spoke with the staff for about 20 minutes. My family continues to believe that Whole Foods should conduct trainings using a third party who can speak about best practices for working with customers who have disabilities.

    8. News Coverage from the London Daily Mail

      Emily Goldman
      Petition Organiser
      Woman's outrage after 'Whole Foods security guard told her to put her autistic brother on a LEASH for stealing food'

      An autistic man who was caught eating food without paying at a Wisconsin Whole Foods Market was asked to leave and not come back unless he's on a leash, according to his outraged family. On January 2, Emily Goldstein took her brother, Michael, shopping at the Whole Foods supermarket on North Avenue in Milwaukee.

    9. Update: Whole Foods Cancelled This Week's Training

      Emily Goldman
      Petition Organiser

      On today's morning news, Whole Foods promised that it would provide training at the Milwaukee store this week. Within hours, we learned from the local Autism Society (who we had been told would run the training) that Whole Foods had already told them not to come because it had been cancelled.

      We must keep the pressure up until they have actually followed through on their promise of training.

    10. News Coverage from Milwaukee's Fox 6 News

      Emily Goldman
      Petition Organiser
      EXCLUSIVE: Woman says store told her to put brother on "leash"

      MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A man with autism was confronted in Whole Foods on Milwaukee's east side for eating food without paying. When his family attempted to apologize and explain, a security guard reportedly compared the 26-year-old man to a dog. Now, the store is working to make things right.

    11. Reached 1,000 signatures
    12. More Complete Details About the Incident

      Emily Goldman
      Petition Organiser

      I was shopping with my brother Michael, a 26-year-old with autism, at a Milwaukee Whole Foods. After walking away from my side my brother took some food from the hot bar. He is sometimes confused by the order of payment & shopping etiquette, plus he may have been confused by the samples. My brother doesn’t speak (it’s part of his autism) so couldn't explain himself when he was confronted by two Whole Foods security guards who escorted him to the exit. When I found out what happened I explained my brother’s situation and offered to pay for the food. The security personnel responded that my brother would never be allowed back unless he was on a leash like a dog. I asked if anyone from the store had ever spoken to my family before, and they said no. This was their first response. When my mother complained to the assistant manager about how my brother had been treated, the assistant store manager apologized for the specific use of the word "leash," but spoke disparagingly of my brother.

    13. Big Development in Milwaukee

      Emily Goldman
      Petition Organiser

      Today -- after well over 100 of you signed on, tweeted, and shared this petition -- my mother talked with the store manager, the boss of the person she'd spoken to last night (who was the assistant manager). He fired 1 of the 2 employees who said my brother needed to be on a leash or get out. With prodding, he also agreed some sort of to sensitivity training in our local Whole Foods.

      Make no mistake -- this is huge for persons with disabilities in my neighborhood. But I think we can even do better.

      I have already found at least one news story showing that this is not the only Whole Foods store that has mishandled persons with disabilities. With your help, I would like to push this farther, urging Whole Foods National to institute training about persons with disabilities in all their stores.

      Please stay with me in this! You all are amazing!

    14. Reached 200 signatures


    Reasons for signing

    • Eddie Gleason KANSAS CITY, MO
      • 6 months ago

      Consumers are the true job creators.Try running a business w/o us.

    • Mary Limbacher ZELIENOLPLE, PA
      • 7 months ago

      As a sister of an older brother, Michael, born with Downs syndrome and diagnosed as an adult with autism and a mother of a wonderful young man diagnosed with Asperger's, I am personally saddened by this story. I can still remember staring down other young teens at a community mall forty years ago when they mocked and stared at my brother for just looking differently. We all have a responsibility to stand up for disrespect that I believe is due to ignorance and usually insecurity. Awareness can lead to understanding; education can dispel fear. After forming the first parent support group for parents of individuals diagnosed with Asperger's in Western PA thirteen years ago and opening the non-profit Parents in Toto Autism Resource Center, located in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA almost six years ago, I believe we can make a difference, even with the most minimal of resources with enough passion for change. Emily, from one sister to another, I applaud your courage. I pray for your strength to find a resolution for Michael and for all individuals who deserve respect and appreciation for their differences.

    • Bob Scott BILOXI, MS
      • 8 months ago

      People think I need a leash too.

    • Bonnie Cozzetto COSMOPOLIS, WA
      • 8 months ago

      Respect is not something limited to "Perceived Perfection"! I could never patronize that Bigoted Judgmental Establishment!

    • rex freeman WAYNESVILLE, MO
      • 9 months ago

      a woman near and dear to my heart has a son with autism


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