Gerardo Gutierrez, 70, a deli worker at a Publix supermarket in Miami Beach, died in April after contracting coronavirus
The family of a Miami beach supermarket employee who died of COVID-19 after he is said to have contracted the disease from a colleague has filed a lawsuit against the company for allegedly not allowing its workers to wear masks so as not to scare customers.
Gerardo Gutierrez, 70, died this past April just weeks after he is said to have been infected with the coronavirus.
According to his family, he caught the virus from a fellow employee who worked alongside him at the Publix supermarket at 1920 West Avenue in Miami Beach.
Publix, the massive Lakeland, Florida-based supermarket chain with more than 1,250 locations across the southeastern United States, is being accused of failing to keep Gutierrez and other employees safe from the virus.
DailyMail.com has reached out to Publix seeking comment.
The lawsuit, which was filed by his daughter, Ariane, who is representing her father’s estate, alleges that Publix ‘minimized, downplayed, misrepresented, and otherwise concealed’ the risk of COVID-19 to its employees.
The company is also accused of not allowing its employees to wear masks or gloves so as not to frighten the customers.
‘You can either work without a mask or go home,’ the lawsuit quotes one employee as saying.
Another employee is alleged to have said: ‘We have been instructed to not wear gloves or masks in case we “incite panic” on the floor.
‘There is disciplinary action if we refuse to remove them.’
A lawsuit filed by Gutierrez’s family alleges that he caught the virus from a co-worker at the Publix supermarket located at 1920 West Avenue in Miami Beach (above)
Publix is being accused in the lawsuit of being ‘more concerned with protecting its sales and profits.’
The lawsuit was filed on Monday in the 11th Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County.
‘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,’ the lawsuit alleged.
In late March, Gutierrez worked in the deli department of the supermarket alongside an unidentified colleague who began to exhibit signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including coughing, it is claimed.
The company ‘failed to send her home or ensure that she did not present for work,’ according to the court filing.
The woman’s bosses at Publix ‘also knew that she was not wearing a mask due to Publix’s policy prohibiting personal protective equipment, but did not order her to quarantine at home and did nothing to protect [Gutierrez] who was working alongside her’, the lawsuit states.
Shortly afterward, the woman tested positive for COVID-19. Her positive test result was reported to the company.
On April 2, Gutierrez was then sent home and told to self-isolate since he was in close contact with the infected co-worker.
‘He complied, but it was too little, too late,’ according to the lawsuit.
On April 6, Gutierrez ‘began experiencing a cough and fever.’ The next day, as his condition worsened, he tested positive for COVID-19.
On April 10, Gutierrez’s condition worsened to the point where he needed to be hospitalized.
Gutierrez was in the hospital for 18 days. On April 28, doctors ‘notified his family that a priest was being called to read Gutierrez his last rights,’ according to the lawsuit.
‘Family and friends gathered by Zoom to say their goodbyes, unable to hold his hand or give him one last hug,’ the lawsuit states.
Gutierrez died in hospital on April 28. He was read his last rights by a priest and was forced to say goodbye to his family via Zoom, according to a lawsuit
Later that day, Gutierrez died from complications of COVID-19.
He is survived by his four children.
‘The sudden passing of our father has been a devastating loss to our family,’ Ariane Gutierrez said in a 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.’
The family is suing Publix for in excess of $30,000.
Publix, the largest employee-owned company in the US, has been recognized by Fortune magazine as a great place to work for 23 consecutive years.
In late March, the company announced it would install plexiglass barriers to protect its cashiers, joining other retailers that put in place the shields to protect employees and customers from coronavirus infection.
‘We’re taking extra precautions for the well-being of our customers and associates,’ Maria Brous, a spokeswoman for Publix Super Markets Inc, said at the time.
At least 70 Publix employees in Florida tested positive for COVID-19 in the early weeks and months of the pandemic, leading to accusations that the company was slow to mandate the wearing of masks among its employees, according to the Tampa Bay Times.