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Publix Sued After Employee's Death From COVID-19

MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) - A South Florida family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit Publix claiming that their loved one died from coronavirus after contracting it at work.

Gerardo Gutierrez, 70, worked in the deli department at Publix in Miami Beach. According to the lawsuit, he was prohibited from wearing a mask back in March.

The lawsuit claims Publix prohibited employees from wearing masks because they believed it would frighten customers.

Gutierrez contracted the virus from a co-worker who started exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 on March 27-28, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit further alleges that Publix knew or should have known that the employee was exhibiting signs and symptoms, but failed to send her home or ensure that she did not present for work.

On April 2, Gutierrez was told to isolate at home but by April 7, he tested positive for COVID-19, the complaint says. He died on April 28.

The lawsuit cites complaints from other Publix stores about the policy of barring the wearing of masks and gloves to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency that safeguards workplace safety.

CBS4 has reached out to Publix twice for a statement but they have yet to respond.

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In March, Publix CEO Todd Jones told customers and employees the company "cares about your health and well-being" and it was following federal and state guidance. Another Publix statement said employees were required to wear face coverings beginning April 20. According to the lawsuit, Gutierrez allegedly was exposed to the symptomatic coworker in late March.

In April, Publix told The Tampa Bay Times that it had followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which initially discouraged widespread public use of masks.

"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," said Michael Levine, one of the attorneys representing Gutierrez's family.

The lawsuit is seeking damages "in excess of $30,000 exclusive of interest and costs."

(©2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)

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