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Fired Whole Foods worker sues

When the Whole Foods in Jamaica Plain installed a burrito bar and an expanded pizza station last fall, a group of employees signed a petition asking for a $1-an-hour raise to compensate them for the additional work. This action, and the internal investigation that followed, led to the termination of an employee, who is now suing the grocery chain for retaliation and breach of contract.

According to the lawsuit, filed this week in Suffolk Superior Court, Ryan Costello and 15 of his coworkers in the prepared foods department presented their manager with the petition in mid-October after it became clear that there would be no new workers or compensation for the additional work of preparing meat and vegetables, making burritos, and folding pizza boxes.


“Our team has been asked to shoulder new responsibilities and an increased workload with minimal support,” the petition read. “Many of us have been working extra hours, and extra days.”

Costello, who drafted the petition and was the first to sign it, said he was subsequently told he was being investigated for soliciting signatures on the clock, which violates company policy. When he said he was only discussing workplace issues during work hours, not gathering signatures, he was fired for “lying during an investigation,” according to the complaint.

Whole Foods declined to respond to the allegations, saying only that the company “does not comment on pending litigation.”

Whole Foods has a reputation for opposing unions, noted Costello’s lawyer, Hillary Schwab, and the petition may look “a little too much like union organizing,” she said. In the 1980s, cofounder John Mackey famously compared unions to herpes, Costello noted.

“It was pretty clear that they had been trying to take advantage of these employees by having them work many more hours with more responsibility without raising their wages,” Schwab said. “I think they viewed Ryan as the ring leader on this and wanted to send a message to other employees not to continue to advocate for themselves.”


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.