Park Slope Food Co-Op member sues grocer over suspension, claiming racial discrimination

park slope food co-op
Reginald Ferguson (center) is suing the Park Slope Food Co-Op over his suspension from the food emporium.
Courtesy Reginald Ferguson

A member of the Park Slope Food Co-Op is suing the famously liberal grocer in federal court, accusing management of suspending him without a hearing for playing “Black music” and “having too much fun” during his shift. 

Reginald Ferguson, a member of the Union Street co-op for over 20 years, says that the organic food emporium’s leadership issued the racially-charged suspension in 2017, which kicked off a years-long campaign to have the matter settled in an internal hearing — which, he says, the co-op is yet to grant him, in violation of its own disciplinary guidelines. 

When a member of the co-op made the comment lamenting his choice of music during Ferguson’s time as a shift manager, the issue went before the co-op’s “Dispute Resolution Squad” — but that made matters worse, as a squad representative backed up the complaint, and took issue with Ferguson’s joyous attitude, he says. 

In the intervening years, Ferguson’s held protests outside the supermarket to no avail, as he’s consistently been denied his day in quasi-court. 

Now, he’s heading to actual court, fundraising to hire a lawyer and bring a federal suit after the managers of the socialist food seller forced his hand, he says.

“In my mind, it’s not that I’m taking it this far — it’s that the co-op is taking it this far,” he said. “I repeatedly with intention tried to work within the system of the co-op.”

Ferguson, who is Black, says his treatment is part of a larger pattern of discrimination felt by other people of color at the famously liberal co-op, as evidenced by the Instagram page “Black at PSFC” which details the experiences of non-white co-op members.

“For all its seemingly noble values, I don’t think the co-op leadership gives a s— about enacting them and making the PSFC a truly equitable place,” reads one post on the account.

Ferguson, a member of the local Community Board 6 and real estate agent, says he has waged this battle for years not only because of his own experiences — but because of the experiences of other Black co-op members. 

“I would be remiss if I didn’t do this for all the voices who haven’t had the guts, or the wherewithal, or the endurance to fight against this organization which consistently rubs people of color down to a nub,” he said. 

Among his experiences, Ferguson says, was a member of the co-op’s DRC, which Ferguson described as an “overzealous law enforcement body” yelling in his face during a general meeting before storming out.

“The guy went face to face with me for about 15 seconds and then walked away,” he said. 

Ferguson says he ruffled feathers on the co-op’s DRC for his campaign against their flaunting of the co-op’s disciplinary guidelines, prompting them to make an example out of him.

“The reason this happened to me is because I had the temerity to fight back,” he said. “In their mind I’m uppity.”

Joe Holtz, the co-op’s general manager, did not return a message seeking comment.

Racial discrimination at the Food Co-Op is a particularly bemusing phenomenon at Park Slope’s unique mecca of food-based communism, as members have often used the platform granted to them from working shift at the grocery store to wade into hot-button national and international issues — including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the apartheid regime in South Africa, and opposition to infant formula rather than breastfeeding. 

In 2019, members rose up against the co-op’s leadership after full-time paid staffers accused them of attempting to squash their unionization efforts

Since it was founded in 1973, the Food Co-Op has consistently brandished its reputation as notoriously liberal, even within the liberal bastion of Park Slope, making Ferguson’s charges of racial unrest a sore point — but, he says, members shouldn’t be surprised, as many Black members have experienced similar discrimination.  

“What has happened to me is no different than what has happened to a lot of people who look like me,” he said.