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CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami) – Alexis Zaldivar says he “felt like a criminal” at a Whole Foods Market on Red Road in Coral Gables, set upon by a manager and cop who tossed him out in August, he says, for oversampling food items as he waited to take his wife to lunch there after a doctor’s appointment.
The immigrant, who does not speak English, said he was confused and embarrassed by the incident.
“He told me I was taken out of the store because I was tasting everything,” Zaldivar quotes the manager as saying. “I said, ‘no I was only sampling a few things,’ and he said ‘samplings are only for customers.’ The man told me ‘you’re not a customer.'”
Whole Foods’ website encourages customers to “Sample Nearly Everything.” A “try it before you buy it” policy asks customers to let a team member know if they’d like to try something, which lets associates “open a bag of chips, slice a piece of fruit…or twist open bottled iced tea, so you can bring home products you like.”
Zaldivar’s attorney says his sampling brought him humiliation.
“Because of Whole Foods’ racial profiling, Mr. Zaldivar was submitted to a walk of shame,” attorney Jasmine Rand said at a Wednesday news conference with her client.
Whole Foods issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying “Mr. Zaldivar was not removed or banned from Whole Foods Market. The plaintiff’s attorney is attempting to paint a picture of prejudice that is inaccurate. Our Coral Gables store is a reflection of the diverse community it serves, and to suggest this incident was discriminatory in nature is false.”
A source said Zaldivar was eating from “a whole item” in the bakery section, and that police were never involved in the incident.
Zaldivar said he sampled “two little pieces of bread, and a bite of a cookie.”
Zaldivar’s attorney says a company representative used racist euphemisms when she first spoke with them.
“You’re telling me that ‘they and them always oversample’ at your stores and ‘what should our managers do about that?'” Language like “they” and “them” is very significant in terms of proving whether something is racism,” Rand said.
“I felt like a cockroach,” Zaldivar said of the incident at Whole Foods. “For it to happen in front of all those people, it made me feel bad, very bad.”
Attorneys for Zaldivar don’t believe his incident occurred in a vacuum, that there are others who have allegedly been treated in a similar fashion. if so, they would like to hear from them.
No lawsuit has been filed as yet.
Zaldivar’s attorneys said they want Whole Foods to fire the manager involved in the incident, require racial sensitivity training for all of its employees and agree not to discriminate against customers because of how they look or talk.