Family’s Wrongful Death Suit against Publix Supermarket Chain Faces Hurdles
The family of a Publix supermarket employee filed a rare COVID-19 lawsuit against the company over his death. The complaint alleges that the company prohibited its workers from wearing masks on the job, especially during the onset of the pandemic.
70-year-old Gerardo Gutierrez worked at the Miami Beach Publix grocery store. According to the filed complaint, on March 27 and 28 he worked with an employee who displayed symptoms of COVID-19. Gutierrez was immediately sent home for isolation after his coworker tested positive for the virus. HE was hospitalized on April 10 and succumbed to coronavirus complications on April 28.
The family’s lawyer claimed that Gutierrez requested permission to wear a mask while working at the Publix supermarket, but the store denied his request citing that wearing masks was not allowed, as it would “scare” the customers. Allegedly, the company prohibited its employees from wearing masks despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) protocol (which also includes wearing gloves and social distancing during the pandemic).
The four adult children of Gutierrez are now suing Publix for $30,000 in damages. Levine said, “This is a case that needs to be prosecuted and that we need to push forward in our court system and shed light on what Publix was doing and why they were doing it.” “The fact that they would choose profits over employees is shameful and disappointing,” he added.
Gutierez’s 43-year-old daughter, Ariane, described her father’s death as a “devastating loss.” She also wrote via the lawyer’s website, “Our Family is in shock that Publix would prevent its employees from staying safe. Because of its careless decisions, our father is not here with us today.”
The lawsuit also stated, “Family and friends gathered by Zoom to say their goodbyes, unable to hold his hand or give him one last hug. Later that day, Gerardo Gutierrez died as a result of complications caused by COVID-19.”
The suit also alleges that many complaints regarding the company’s negligence and flouting of CDC protocols were submitted to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Levine stated, “You have a company like Publix that profited greatly throughout the pandemic on the backs of employees like Gerardo Gutierrez, and you’d imagine the least they could do for those people who showed up at work was to protect their own employees. And then to learn they wouldn’t let their employees wear masks because they thought it would scare off their customers. That’s just very troubling.”
He further added, “This is a case that needs to be prosecuted and that we need to push forward in our court system and shed light on what Publix was doing and why they were doing it. The fact they would choose profits over employees is shameful and disappointing.”
In April, Publix had stated publicly that the company observed all CDC protocols, (which, at the time, did not encourage the public use of a mask). Maria Brous, the company’s spokeswoman, stated in the early days of the pandemic, “We have been, and will continue to be, keenly focused on intensive, ongoing protective measures in all our stores.”