Nine former Whole Foods managers have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court against the grocery chain, alleging that they were fired for whistleblowing activities regarding a company bonus program.
The plaintiffs say they were cheated out of their shares of the bonus program by the company, and were fired when they complained about it.
Whole Foods announced the termination of the nine managers in early December, charging them with manipulating a “gainsharing” bonus program, which rewards employees whose departments perform under budget.
The company gave no details regarding the nature of the alleged “gaming” of the bonus system on the part of the managers, saying only that the matter was under investigation and that only a small number of stores were involved.
Since then, the nine managers have countered with the lawsuit, seeking $25 million apiece in damages.
From the Chicago Tribune:
“The former managers say Whole Foods engaged in ‘systemic wage theft’ at its stores nationwide and that the managers were punished for it after a ‘sham internal investigation.’
“The lawsuit also accuses Whole Foods of defamation for telling media outlets that the managers were stealing bonuses from their workers at stores in the Mid-Atlantic region.”
Lawsuit alleges Whole Foods cheated more than 20,000 employees out of their bonuses
The plaintiffs accused the company of performing its own manipulation of the bonus system to prevent employees from receiving their shares.
From Fox News:
“Under the program, the lawsuit claims, workers of eligible departments can share in overages. But the plaintiffs claim that Whole Foods avoided pay outs 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,’ court records show.”
The suit also alleges that Whole Foods executives were aware of the scheme to defraud its own employees and that at least 20,000 workers nationwide were affected.
“Whole Paycheck” notorious for overpricing, mistreating employees and lying about products
The hugely successful natural foods grocery chain is no stranger to controversy. Many have accused the chain of overpricing its products, underpaying its employees and engaging in deceptive marketing practices.
The chain’s notoriously high prices have led to the derisive nickname “Whole Paycheck,” since it’s considered fairly easy to spend an entire week’s salary on a relatively minimal shopping excursion at one of its stores.
In fact, a Barclay’s analysis released this week found many of the chain’s products to be “significantly overpriced,” and recommended lowering prices or else “continue to lose share in these departments.”
Whole Foods has also been accused of misbranding many items it sells to the public. There have been numerous reports of the chain having lied about sourcing, GMO content and toxic ingredients in their products.
But perhaps the biggest enduring complaint against the chain is that it mistreats and underpays its employees.
Whole Foods is staunchly anti-union and has reportedly fired employees for trying to start one. Many workers say that their working conditions are poor, wages are below standard, stores are under-staffed and employee turnover is high.
The chain – which has also been labeled a “faux-hippie Wal-Mart” – appeals to consumers for its supposed commitment to the environment and social justice but upon closer inspection, Whole Foods seems to embody the sort of corporate greed and bullying tactics it pretends to oppose.
But gullible consumers continue filing into the chain’s over-crowded outlets, eager to buy ridiculously priced specialty items that may or may not live up to labeling claims that such products are “dolphin-free”, “100% organic” or “turtle-safe.”
Many people figured out years ago that buying from local organic farmer’s markets is smarter and cheaper, and that there are other grocery chains selling natural food at reasonable prices.
In other words, there’s no real need to continue giving up your “whole paycheck” every time you go to the grocery store.