Publix lawsuit: family claims company failed to protect employee against Covid-19

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Gerardo Gutierrez, 70, contracted the virus from another employee of the deli, according to the complaint filed Monday in Miami-Dade County. He maintains that the chain in the early months of the pandemic feared the face covers would scare customers off.

CNN reached out to Publix for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

Gutierrez was working at a Miami Beach site when the other employee started showing symptoms of Covid-19 on March 27 and 28, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further alleges that Publix knew or should have known that the employee was exhibiting signs and symptoms, but failed to send her home or ensure she did not show up for work.

On April 2, Gutierrez was asked to self-isolate at home, but on April 7, he tested positive for Covid-19, according to the complaint. He died on April 28.The lawsuit cites complaints from other Publix stores about the no-face mask and glove policy to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency that protects workplace safety.

A complaint, received March 19 from a store in Palmetto Bay, Florida, alleged the company “refused to let employees wear gloves or masks because the company claimed it would scare customers …” note the trial.

CNN has contacted OSHA for comment.

In March, Publix CEO Todd Jones told customers and employees that the company “cares about your health and well-being” and follows federal and state guidelines. Another Publix statement said employees must wear masks from April 20. According to the trial, Gutierrez was exposed to the symptomatic colleague at the end of March.

In April, Publix told the Tampa Bay Times that it had followed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which initially discouraged widespread use of masks by the public.

“This case is really about a company taking advantage of the backs of these workers by telling them that you can’t wear a mask, you can’t wear PPE, you can’t protect yourself,” Michael Levine, the one of the attorneys representing Gutierrez’s family, told CNN.

The company has 1,258 stores in the Southeast and employs more than 225,000 people, according to its website.

The lawsuit seeks damages “in excess of $ 30,000 excluding interest and costs”.

Phil Gast of CNN contributed to this report.

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