Paging Dr. Goffman

Brown v. Whole Foods Market Grp., Inc., No. 13-7156 (D.C. Cir. June 12, 2015).

Sociologist Erving Goffman

Sociologist Erving Goffman

Pro se plaintiff Randy Brown has a traumatic brain injury that causes twitching and idiosyncratic expressions and mannerisms. If Brown’s allegations are believed, Whole Foods employees treated him with disrespect, refused to give him deli samples, repeatedly accused him of stealing, and asked him, mockingly, whether his food stamps wouldn’t go further at a less expensive store. Brown, not incidentally, is black. And he is not on food stamps.

Brown filed a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits retailers and others from discriminating against people with disabilities. Later he asked to amend his complaint to add a racial-discrimination claim under the Civil Rights Act, alleging that Whole Foods had racially profiled him. The district court dismissed the claims.

The D.C. Circuit now reverses. Brown’s pleadings, the court concludes, sufficiently alleged that Whole Foods had violated the ADA. As for the racial-discrimination claim, Brown did fail to file a required administrative notice before bringing the claim. On that ground, the district court dismissed the claim. The D.C. Circuit, however, holds that the administrative-notice requirement isn’t jurisdictional, so the district court shouldn’t have dismissed the claim—instead, it should have held the claim in abeyance until Brown complied with the notice requirement.