One current and one former employee of a D.C. Whole Foods store filed a federal class-action lawsuit Tuesday against the grocery chain, alleging that the company cheated them out of bonuses.
Last week, Whole Foods said that nine managers at stores in Maryland, Virginia and the District were fired for gaming the chain’s “gainsharing” program, which awards bonuses to employees whose departments come in under budget. Whole Foods didn’t explain the nature of the manipulation or say which locations were affected, saying only that the incident was under investigation and isolated to a small number of its 457 stores.
Now, in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, a current and a former employee of the Whole Foods location on P Street in Northwest Washington say that the chain “engaged in a nationwide scheme to strip hard-working employees of earned bonuses in order to maximize their own profit.”
Under gainsharing, the lawsuit alleges, employees of departments that come in under budget are supposed to share in surpluses, but Whole Foods avoided paying by shifting labor costs to other departments. The chain also created “fast teams” — employees that “float from one department to another” and “shifted labor costs among departments without properly accounting for it,” the lawsuit says.
A spokeswoman for Austin-based Whole Foods said the company is investigating the allegations.
“We are still in the process of investigating the issues raised in the recently filed lawsuit and, as we do with any allegations affecting our Team Members and customers, we will continue to conduct a thorough inquiry,” company spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said in a statement. “Once our investigation is complete, we will take all necessary steps to correct any errors we identify.”
The lawsuit also claims that the shifts in labor were made around the country with knowledge of executives, and that “at least twenty thousand (potentially many more) past and present employees” were affected.
“It is believed that this is a nationwide practice,” the lawsuit says.
The suit seeks $200 million in punitive damages and triple unpaid wages, among other relief. One plaintiff, Michael Molock, of the District, has worked at Whole Foods since 2012 and makes up to $13 per hour; the other, Randal Kuczor, also of the District, worked at the chain from 2003 to 2015 and made up to $20.85 per hour.
“I’ve seen what these people have gone through for 13 years — they’ve poured their heart and soul into their jobs for most part,” said Kuczor, who was laid off last November. “It’s sad and disappointing that, having worked there for so long, they are victims of corporate greed.”