Family sues after deli employee dies from contracting the coronavirus at work.
A Florida family has filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County circuit court against Publix, claiming the supermarket engaged in unsafe business practices contributing to the death of 70-year-old Gerardo Gutierrez, a deli employee who passed away after exposure to the coronavirus while at work. According to the lawsuit, Publix “prohibited employees from wearing masks and gloves” even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) has recommended wearing masks in public settings to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
“Gerardo Gutierrez was told by Publix that he could not wear a mask despite the fact that he wanted to wear one, but he continued to go to work each day because he believed Publix’s statements that it was taking all measures necessary to keep him safe,” attorneys Michael E. Levine and A. Dax Bello, representing the family, said in a joint statement. “Publix, however, minimized, downplayed, misrepresented and otherwise concealed the risk posed to its employee by its prohibition on masks and other personal protective equipment…Publix was more concerned with protecting its sales and profits and didn’t want to incite panic in customers who would be turned off seeing employees wearing masks. Publix intentionally chose to protect sales over the health and well-being of its employees and customers knowing that employees, especially a 70-year-old employee working next to a sick co-worker, such as Gerardo Gutierrez, would be exposed to COVID-19 and die.”
According to the lawsuit, at one point, Gutierrez’s co-worker at the deli “was exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19, but Publix failed to send her home.” Around the same time, Publix CEO Todd Jones told customers and employees, “The company cares about your health and well-being” and insisted it was following federal and state guidance, although the family contends it was not.
“Shortly thereafter, the employee, Jane Doe, tested positive, so Publix sent Gutierrez home on April 2 and told him to self-isolate. He complied, but it was too little, too late,” the lawsuit alleges. Gutierrez had already contracted the virus from his co-worker and began exhibiting symptoms April 6. He was admitted to the hospital on April 10 and died on April 28.
As the virus continued to spread, Publix finally announced on it would allow employees “the option to wear gloves and masks.” However, customers were not required to wear PPE at all stores until July 21. The lawsuit alleges the supermarket could have instituted guidelines to make the environment much safer and save Gutierrez’s life. It states, “Publix knowingly put Gutierrez at risk” and “had been warned that its policies with respect to employee use of personal protective equipment were woefully inadequate and causing employees to become sick, but failed to take timely action.”
Levine said, “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.”
The family is seeking $30,000 for their loss.