The family of a Publix employee who died from coronavirus complications has filed a wrongful death lawsuit that claims the grocery store chain refused to allow employees to wear masks at the time he became sick.
Gerardo Gutierrez, 70, contracted the virus from a fellow deli employee, Monday’s lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County alleges. It contends the chain in the early months of the pandemic was worried face coverings would frighten customers.
CNN reached out to Publix for comment but did not immediately receive a reply.
Gutierrez was working at a Miami Beach location when the other employee started exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 on March 27-28, the lawsuit alleges.
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 that she did not present for work.
On April 2, Gutierrez was told to isolate at home but by April 7, he tested positive for Covid-19, the complaint says. He died on April 28.
The lawsuit cites complaints from other Publix stores about the policy of barring the wearing of masks and gloves to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency that safeguards workplace safety.
One complaint, received on March 19 from a store in Palmetto Bay, Florida, alleged that the company was “refusing to let employees wear gloves or masks because of corporate claiming it will scare the customers …” the lawsuit notes.
CNN has reached out to OSHA for comment.
In March, Publix CEO Todd Jones told customers and employees the company “cares about your health and well-being” and it was following federal and state guidance. Another Publix statement said employees were required to wear face coverings beginning April 20. According to the lawsuit, Gutierrez allegedly was exposed to the symptomatic coworker in late March.
In April, Publix told The Tampa Bay Times that it had followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which initially discouraged widespread public use of masks.
“What this case is really about is a company who is profiting off the backs of these workers, telling them you can’t wear a mask, you can’t wear PPE, you can’t protect yourself,” Michael Levine, one of the attorneys representing Gutierrez’s family, told CNN.
The company has 1,258 stores in the Southeast and employs over 225,000 people, according to its website.
The lawsuit is seeking damages “in excess of $30,000 exclusive of interest and costs.”