Ex-Manager Says Publix Supervisors Belittled, Fired Him After Learning He Had HIV

Ask 100 Floridians to rattle off Publix's slogan and guaranteed, 100 of them will be able to answer: "Where shopping is a pleasure." The state's most beloved supermarket has a stellar reputation for killer chicken tender Pub subs, free deli meat slices, and employee-friendly policies.

But beyond the buffed-to-a-shine aisles and soothing green color scheme, at least one employee claims the chain isn't always a pleasant place to work. A new lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade civil court says Publix supervisors violated medical privacy laws by exposing the HIV diagnosis of one of its managers, who says he became the subject of workplace gossip after a pharmacy employee blabbed.

"The assistant pharmacy manager purposefully and deliberately disclosed to [the manager's] coworkers his HIV status, in order to embarrass and ostracize him," the suit alleges.

The complaint does not give the name of the manager, who is referred to as John Doe, nor does it identify which Miami-Dade Publix he worked at. A Publix spokeswoman did not return calls and emails from New Times requesting comment.

According to the lawsuit, the ordeal began back in June 2013 when the manager was first diagnosed with HIV. Because Publix makes it extremely difficult for employees with its health insurance to fill their prescriptions anywhere but a Publix pharmacy, the manager says he was forced to pick up his medications across town to avoid awkward run-ins with coworkers.

Less than a month later, though, the manager says he was approached by the assistant pharmacy manager at his own store, who had inexplicably reviewed the manager's prescription records and then confronted him about his HIV. That same week, the manager says both the assistant pharmacy manager and the overall store manager approached him to discuss his condition, insisting on pulling up his patient profile on one of the store's computers.

And while the employee had hoped to keep his personal medical history, you know, personal, he says the circle of people who knew about his diagnosis kept growing, leading a handful of his coworkers to openly gossip at work about his status. The manager says the situation was so distressing that it even exacerbated his physical ailments.

After begging for a reassignment, he was finally transferred to another store, but the discrimination continued. And after making formal complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and his district supervisors, the employee claims the store retaliated by demoting him and finally firing him in April 2017.

"Were it not for [Publix's] discrimination and retaliation, [he] would still be happily employed with [Publix]," the suit says.

The employee's attorney, Jason Remer, did not respond to requests for comment. As of this week, no court dates had been set.
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.

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