Editor’s note: Story updated on Feb. 21 at 11:53 a.m. to reflect changes to the lawsuit.
Two Aramark managers filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday in Philadelphia alleging that the food-, building-, and uniform-services giant broke a contract when it decided this month not to pay 2018 bonuses to thousands of lower-level managers across the country.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Henry J. Lacher and Michael Ruskowski, seeks nationwide class-action status.
Lacher, of Greenville, S.C., has worked for Aramark as a district facilities manager since 2016. The lawsuit says Lacher earned a bonus of more than $40,000 in 2018. Aramark owes Ruskowski, a director of environmental services at a facility in Florida, more than $10,000 for his 2018 bonus, according to the lawsuit.
[Update on Feb. 21: Ruskowksi withdrew his claim on Wednesday without giving a reason.]
Failure by the court to force Aramark to pay the bonuses “would cause a great injustice” to the managers and provide “an unfair financial windfall” to the company, the complaint said.
Representing Lacher and Ruskowski are lawyers in Dresher, Boston, and Greenville. They argue that Aramark breached a contract by not paying bonuses promised in employment offer letters, which said managers were eligible for bonuses calculated according to a management incentive bonus plan.
“We look forward to pursuing this important lawsuit on behalf of managers who worked hard for their annual bonuses and reasonably expected the bonuses to be paid," the lawyers said in a statement provided by lawyer Peter Winebrake of Winebrake & Santillo LLC in Dresher. “For many working families, annual bonuses are an important component of household income. In today’s economy, families rely on bonus pay when they make their household budgets. So it’s very important that businesses follow through on commitments to pay annual bonuses.”
The other lawyers listed on the complaint are David E. Rothstein, of Rothstein Law Firm PA, in Greenville, plus Harold Lichten and Shannon Liss-Riordan, of Lichten & Liss-Riordan P.C. in Boston.
The lawyers did not make Lacher and Ruskowski available for interviews.
Aramark has denied any obligation to pay bonuses, which sometimes account for more than 20 percent of a manager’s annual compensation. The company employs about 170,000 people in the United States, including 14,000 in Pennsylvania and nearly 6,500 in the Philadelphia region.
“Aramark does not have a guaranteed bonus plan, and does have ultimate discretion to determine bonus payouts. Beyond that, we do not comment on pending litigation,” the company said Tuesday.
The company’s chief financial officer, Stephen P. Bramlage, said last week that Aramark did not pay 2018 bonuses to lower-level managers because the company did not meet a profit target set by the firm’s board of directors. Lower-level managers, whose bonuses have long been calculated at the local level, were not told at the beginning of the year that the company’s overall profitability could determine whether or not they got a bonus, Bramlage acknowledged.
In the fiscal year ended Sept. 28, the company had net income of $568 million on revenue of $15.8 billion.
The bonus controversy at Aramark, which is among the largest U.S. providers of food, facilities, and uniform services, started Dec. 3, when the company notified thousands of managers that fiscal 2018 bonuses, “historically paid in December, will be paid in February.”
That set off alarm bells that the bonuses, which often amount to 15 percent to 25 percent of total compensation, depending on performance, would not be paid. Sure enough, late on Feb. 1, Aramark notified lower-level managers that they would not get their 2018 bonuses because of “great disparity in the financial performance across our U.S. businesses.”
Instead, the company said, it would make onetime payments ranging from $5,500 to $27,500 for all managers at a particular level using money it saved on taxes because of the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, which slashed corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent.