The family of a Walmart worker who died of complications from COVID-19 is suing the retailer, accusing managers at the Chicago-area store where he worked of ignoring his symptoms and failing to let colleagues know he may have contracted the coronavirus disease.
The family of Wando Evans, 51, filed the wrongful death lawsuit Monday in Cook County Circuit Court. Their suit alleges management at the store in Evergreen Park, Illinois, at first ignored symptoms exhibited by Evans and other workers that were consistent with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Evans, an overnight stock and maintenance worker employed at the store for 15 years, was sent home by store managers on March 23 and found dead two days later, according to the suit.
Another worker from the same store, 48-year-old Phillip Thomas, died four days after Evans, also exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, according to a sister of Thomas who lashed out at the retailer in a statement issued by the labor advocacy group United for Respect.
"For weeks, my brother and his coworkers worked at Walmart without masks or gloves while thousands of customers came in every day. There was no enforced social distancing at the time and inadequate paid leave to make sure people weren't going to work sick," Angela McMiller said in the emailed statement.
Walmart, the nation's largest private employer with roughly 1.5 million workers, said in a statement the company was "heartbroken" by the deaths of its two associates and would respond to the suit in court once it had been served with the complaint.
"While neither associate had been at the store in more than a week, we took action to reinforce our cleaning and sanitizing measures, which include a deep-cleaning of key areas," Walmart said in an emailed statement.
The company has taken additional steps to protect workers and customers, including installing sneeze guards at registers, limiting the number of customers in stores, and "providing masks and gloves for associates that want to use them," it stated.
Grocery stores are among the retailers that continue to operate while other nonessential businesses are under orders to close in more than 40 states to curb the spread of the virus that has killed more than 11,000 Americans.
Another supermarket chain, Trader Joe's, said on Tuesday it was temporarily closing six stores for virus-related cleaning, including three where employees had exhibited symptoms consistent with COVID-19 as recently as Saturday.
A Trader Joe's employee who worked at a store in Scarsdale, New York, died Monday of health complications from COVID-19, a spokesperson for the company confirmed.