The family of a Publix employee who died from coronavirus complications in April is suing the Lakeland, Florida-based grocery giant over allegations that his request to wear a mask was denied, and that its failure to keep workers safe led to the 70-year-old’s illness and death.
“He was a very kind, loving and hardworking man that is greatly missed by many,” Ariane Gutierrez, Gerardo Gutierrez’s daughter, said in a statement, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "He was truly loved by the people in his life.”
The family contends that Gutierrez was exposed to the virus in March by an infected coworker who was exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. At the time, according to the Times, Publix was only allowing employees to wear a mask if they had a note from a doctor and worked in certain departments.
“Publix knew or should have known that [the coworker] was exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 prior to and/or soon after her arrival for work at the store, but failed to send her home or ensure that she did not present for work,” the lawsuit claims, according to the Times.
The lawsuit contends that Gutierrez was sent home to isolate on April 2 after the coworker tested positive, and four days later he began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he tested positive he was sent to the hospital, and on April 28 he died.
In a statement on its website, Publix asserts that beginning April 20, all employees were required to wear a face mask.
“We value the health and safety of our associates and customers,” the statement reads. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its guidance as it continues to learn more about the coronavirus. Their recommendations indicate wearing any type of face-covering in public places can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. As a result during this national emergency, we are requiring associates to wear face coverings, beginning April 20. Additionally, associates who are not normally required to wear gloves to voluntarily wear them, if they can safely perform their job duties. We are providing face coverings for all of our associates and plastic gloves for customer service and pharmacy associates until our supplies are depleted. At that time, associates are required to provide their own face covering, and customer service and pharmacy associates may use their personal supply of gloves.”
A mask mandate for customers was announced in July, along with social distancing directives and other measures.
The coronavirus was declared a national emergency on March 13. Publix's sales for the three months ended June 27, 2020, were $11.4 billion, a 21.8% increase from $9.3 billion in 2019, according to a company statement. The company estimates that sales increased by approximately $1.5 billion due to the impact of the pandemic during that time.
A spokesperson did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ request for comment regarding the Gutierrez family’s lawsuit.