WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nine managers who were fired by Whole Foods supermarkets for allegedly manipulating a bonus program have filed a class-action lawsuit against the grocery chain.
The lawsuit filed this week in D.C. Superior Court says the managers were fired for blowing the whistle on a company-wide practice of not paying bonuses earned by employees. 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.
Each of the plaintiffs is seeking $25 million in damages. Whole Foods representatives did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Friday.
Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc., said earlier this month that the nine had been dismissed in recent weeks after a company-wide investigation.
The company said nine managers at stores in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia engaged in a policy infraction that allowed the managers to benefit from a profit-sharing program at the expense of store employees.
Buchanan said at the time that Whole Foods was still investigating exactly how much money is involved and planned to ensure that employees at the affected stores are compensated properly.