NEWARK, N.J. – Two brothers sacked from their grocery jobs for filming a gangster rap parody at the store now face a defamation lawsuit from their former employer.
A&P claims the video by Mark and Matthew D'Avella motivated at least one "disgusted and distressed" customer to boycott the supermarket because of the video's "repulsive acts."
The Montvale-based chain seeks at least $1 million in compensation and demands that the D'Avellas remove "Produce Paradise" from the Internet, where it was on their Web site, www.fakelaugh.com, and YouTube.
The company asserts that the video "contains numerous false and defamatory statements that are injurious to the reputation and livelihood of A&P."
The 4-minute, 16-second video features the two college students in baseball caps, rapping as they handle fruits and vegetables in different parts of a grocery store. The language includes two common vulgarities and some sexual innuendo.
The brothers — styling themselves as a group called Fresh Beets — hit each other in the crotch with beets at one point, and stand with bananas suggestively hanging out of their pants at another. They briefly appear with their pants at their ankles (wearing boxers). One pretends to urinate on some greens.
The rap's refrain is a rhyming couplet: "It's all about the produce produce, we don't like to kid/It's the lower middle portion of the food pyramid."
But A&P said several lines were "disparaging and disgusting," including, "Now stick with your gut, take some advice, it ain't safe in our produce paradise."
The brothers worked at the store in Califon, near their western New Jersey home in Glen Gardner. Speaking Tuesday from their colleges, they said they are distressed because the A&P not only provided them with part-time work, but provided three generations of employment to their extended family. Their father is the produce manager at the Califon store.
"This is just crazy that we put so much dedication into the company and they just stab us in the back," said Matthew, 19, who was there four years and made about $9 an hour.
"We're making fun of the outlandishness of gangster rap," said Matthew, who produced the video in anticipation of submitting it for a class project at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, where he has started his sophomore year majoring in mass communication.
"We were making fun of it by making it about produce," said Matthew, who is the first to rap in the video wearing a brown shirt.
Mark, 22, doubted the video caused any harm to A&P since it was posted Aug. 6. It was viewed over 5,000 times as of Tuesday afternoon.
"If they lose any sales, it will be because of the way they treated two students," said Mark, a junior at the University of Delaware who is majoring in leadership. He spent six years at the store and made about $11 an hour.
The money came in handy for the brothers, said Mark — also a part-time bank teller — because they have five siblings.
The lawsuit also claims trademark infringement, charging that an A&P logo can be seen on one of the ballcaps. The brothers said the video's fuzzy resolution makes it impossible to see what is on the hat.
The rap never mentions the food chain and there are no other apparent A&P references in the video.
Their mother is supportive. "It was done for fun. It was not done to be malicious in any way," Mary D'Avella said.
In a statement, A&P spokesman Richard De Santa said, "Producing a video that intentionally and unjustly depicts our company in a negative light, and utilizing company facilities without management knowledge of the specific content involved, is obviously a blatant violation of our policy."
He said the company would not comment further while it works "to bring this unfortunate series of events to an appropriate conclusion."
The brothers were fired Aug. 23 and the lawsuit was filed Aug. 24 in state Superior Court in Flemington. The lawsuit was first reported Tuesday in the Courier News of Bridgewater.