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.

Like any good sister would, Emily Goldman keeps an eye on her 26-year-old brother Michael, who has autism, a condition that makes communicating difficult for him.

When Michael grabbed from the hot food bar inside the Milwaukee Whole Foods store on North Avenue and could not explain himself to security guards last Wednesday, January 2nd, his sister stepped in.

"I told them that he had autism, apologized that he had taken the food, and immediately offered to pay for it. They told me he needed to get out of the store and not come back unless he was on a leash," Goldman said.

Goldman said she was so taken aback she started an online petition to demand sensitivity training at Whole Foods.

The store took notice.

A company spokeswoman told FOX6 News referencing a "leash" was inexcusable.

However, the spokeswoman also said Michael had eaten from the hot food bar before, and the store had always been understanding.  She also said the language used by the security guard was closer to: "you don't have to put him on a leash, but you have to watch him."

The spokeswoman says the guard worked at Whole Foods through a private security firm, and resigned after last Wednesday's incident.

In a formal statement the spokeswoman wrote in part:

"We apologize and regret that one of our contracted security guards made insensitive comments to a Whole Foods Market shopper who was disabled. We are conducting special training this week for all team members at Whole Foods Market Milwaukee, even though none of our team members were involved."

It`s all much to the relief of the Goldman family-- including Michael. His sister said he understands what`s going on, and is still upset by it.