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Family Sues Publix, Citing Mask Policy After Employee Dies Of COVID-19


The lawsuit claims the 70-year-old Miami Beach deli worker was prohibited by the grocery store chain from wearing a mask. He died on April 28.

The family of a Miami Beach deli worker is suing the Publix supermarket chain, claiming he died of COVID-19 after he was prohibited from wearing a mask while at work.

According to the lawsuit, 70-year-old Gerardo “Gerry” Gutierrez worked alongside a co-worker in late March who showed signs of COVID-19.

The lawsuit claims the Lakeland-based chain prohibited employees from wearing masks and other personal protective equipment, and “refused to allow Gerry to exercise his right to wear a mask.”

Gutierrez was sent home to self-isolate after the co-worker tested positive, and soon developed a cough and fever, the lawsuit states.

Gutierrez tested positive and was hospitalized, according to the lawsuit. He died alone in the hospital on April 28.

"The sudden passing of our father has been a devastating loss to our family," Ariane Gutierrez, Gerry's daughter, said in the statement. "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."

According to the Publix website, the chain began requiring its workers to wear face coverings on April 20. It also issued a similar requirement of customers starting July 21.

The wrongful death lawsuit, filed by Gutierrez’s four adult children through Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A., says Publix’s actions during the pandemic “were reckless and life-threatening.”

"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," attorney Michael Levine said. "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."

Publix has not issued a statement regarding the lawsuit.

Publix is the largest supermarket chain in the Southeast with 1,258 locations, including 814 in Florida. It is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the U.S., according to its website.

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Carl Lisciandrello is digital news editor of WUSF Public Media.