This week, Publix responded to pressure from LGBTQ groups and agreed to provide "pre-exposure prophylactic" (PrEP) preventative HIV medications for employees. But the Fortune 100 supermarket chain still has a long way to go to combat its reputation as a hostile place for gay workers.
Take former employee Juan
But, when he reported his complaints to upper management,
"The extremely degrading and abusive discrimination and harassment got so severe and constant that the Plaintiff would regularly cry (including during work) and have anxiety and fear during work, and was even not able to sleep, and eventually ended up having to see a physician/psychologist for treatment — and ultimately was even prescribed Xanax for the anxiety, depression, etc. caused by Defendant's conduct," the suit reads.
Reached via phone,
But as New Times noted on Sunday, Publix has been fighting anti-gay accusations for years. The people who run the grocery chain have deep ties to conservative politics — Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo have been beneficiaries of Publix campaign cash in the past, and Rubio, in particular, has objected to LGBTQ rights and gay marriage. The chain and the trade groups it supports have also been aligned against efforts to raise local minimum wages, end polystyrene usage to curtail pollution, and even programs to cut down on farm-worker sexual abuse.
And the chain has routinely faced complaints from LGBTQ activists. In 2013, members of the rights group Equality Florida told New Times they'd received complaints about Publix's conduct, and multiple employees recounted their issues with the company firsthand. After one employee said he could not get bereavement pay after his partner of 33 years died, Publix seemingly responded to public acrimony and "updated" its pay policy. The chain has also been accused of specifically mistreating gay or HIV-positive employees.
The same appears to have happened this
Given the company's history, most people assumed the decision was political, rather than financial, since preventative PrEP coverage is way cheaper than medical insurance for people who actually live with HIV. Most observers assumed Publix simply did not want to subsidize safe-sex drugs for gay people.
It appears those activists were correct: State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is himself openly gay, met with Publix officials this week amid the backlash. It seems the grocery chain offered no good answer as to why it was denying PrEP coverage: Smith confirmed there was a blanket ban in place and that Publix was aware Florida is one of the top states in the country for new HIV transmissions.
One day after Smith shamed them online, Publix reversed course and began offering PrEP drugs to its 188,000 employees.
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But a preponderance of evidence suggests larger institutional change may be needed at the grocery giant, which reported $34 billion in sales in 2016. Take
The issue appears to be more systemic than just a handful of bad employees: The suit says
Publix "was aware that I was being bullied and those that were bullying me were identified" to the company, Pastran told the EEOC. "However, to the best of my knowledge and belief, none of the individuals I complained of were disciplined or discharged. The only person affected was