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Willy Street Co-op says it has “not been able to substantiate” allegations of racist comments by staff


In a Facebook post Thursday, Willy Street Co-op said it has “not been able to substantiate” the allegations by customer Dezerae House that a staff member made racist comments on Monday, September 20.

House, 28, said she went into the store that Monday morning to pick up some breakfast on her way to her job.

She said she dished herself some food to go from the store’s hot breakfast bar and an employee at the checkout said, “Don’t make a habit of coming in here,” and “you can’t pay for that with food stamps.”

“I sort of just brushed her off and told her … ‘Okay. I know that already. You don’t have to get rude or anything,’” House said. “And she basically said to me that the grocery store was for locals and people who lived in the neighborhood.”

House said she told the employee she does in fact live in the neighborhood.

“‘I live right in front of the grocery store on the next block. So what are you talking about?’” House recalled saying, to which she said the employee responded, “Well, it’s for people who care about what they’re putting in their bodies.”

“It doesn’t matter,” House said. “Even if I was coming in for donuts, it shouldn’t matter. She shouldn’t make me feel like I don’t belong, and that’s how she made me feel.”

Willy Street Co-op reached out to House and announced publicly that they would accelerate already-planned diversity and inclusion training. They also said they launched an investigation and would fire the employee involved.

However, they said Thursday that after 35 hours of investigation, including reviewing surveillance video, they could not substantiate that any member of the staff made the comments.

Willy Street Co-op officials did not immediately respond to questions regarding whether they believed the incident didn’t happen at all.

House maintains that she is sure it was a member of staff, clarifying that the encounter took place at the check-out, not near the hot bar as was previously reported.

“They basically told me that I had no interaction with a female staff member when I DID,” House said in a Facebook message to Madison365. “And have seen the same staff member several times in the store. I even gave them a thorough description of what she looked like form head to toe … I asked on several occasions if they wanted me to come and point out the employee.”

“The way people treat each other in our stores matters, and the Co-op will not tolerate any type of discrimination,” Willy Street wrote in their Facebook post Thursday. “We are committed to continuing with our efforts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion across the Co-op through supervisor training, staff training, and policy and procedure improvements.”

House said she has filed a complaint with the city’s Department of Civil Rights, and is still considering legal action.