Is Publix anti-gay? Two weeks ago, we reported that the LGBT community had taken issue with the supermarket chain over its lack of policies to protect gay employees. One activist called the company "shockingly conservative."
Publix denied the accusations. Meanwhile, supporters of the supermarket wrote New Times to argue that activists had "not a single piece of testimony from a Publix employee" to back their complaints. Since then, however, several gay Publix employees have written to tell us their stories of discrimination.
"Publix needs to get with the times," says one longtime, openly gay employee in North Palm Beach. "We need to be treated equally. And we're not."
The employee, who we'll call Tom, asked us not to use his real name because he feared losing his job.
Tom says he began working at Publix in the 1970s but left after four years: "I quit when I was cheated out of a management position twice because I was gay." He says his superior told him flat-out that he had been passed over for the job because of his "lifestyle."
Tom later returned to the supermarket out of financial need and has worked there ever since -- never becoming a manager.
Several years ago, his partner of 33 years passed away. But when he asked for paid bereavement leave, he was told he wasn't eligible.
"They denied me bereavement pay," he says. "They said it wasn't a law in the state of Florida that we could be married, so I couldn't get bereavement leave."
"That's flat out discrimination," he says. "It wasn't the money that I needed. It was the principle of the thing."
He says the snub was particularly galling because other, straight Publix employees have been married and divorced many times but still receive bereavement pay when a loved one passes away. Yet his relationship wasn't recognized.
"They're a bunch of hypocrites," he says of his higherups.
But things could be improving for LGBT employees at Publix. On December 19 -- the same day New Times requested comment from the company regarding its policies and several days after LGBT activists complained to the company -- Publix sent out an email memo.
The memo, provided below, announced that on January 1, 2014, Publix would be "enhancing" its bereavement policy to allow absences to mourn "any individual living with the associate."
Tom sees this move as a tacit concession to LGBT employees, but one he doesn't entirely trust. The memo doesn't specifically mention lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender employees.
"There are a lot of people who work at Publix who are gay," Tom says. "A lot of them are going to go through the same thing I did. It might be too late for me, unless a lawsuit goes through and we all get paid, but the next ones that come along should be treated better."
New Times sent a request to Publix for comment about the memo. Asked whether the change was in response to complaints by employees and LGBT activists or our reporting, company spokeswoman Nicole Krauss replied, "Publix routinely reviews policies and procedures. They are not changed suddenly, and much consideration is given prior to changes occurring."
Tom isn't the only Publix employee complaining. In the wake of our article, another supermarket employee wrote retired CEO and LGBT activist David Cary Hart to complain about the company:
I am a Publix associate and also gay. I recently read an article with your name and you mentioned Publix's (lack of) inclusiveness of us in their benefits package. Ironically, before I read your article, I had just started my own petition that I plan to present to Publix corporate after I gather some signatures.
I am following the strategy of entering like a lamb... I will gather signatures and encourage peaceful activism, such as e-mails and calls to Publix in support of the inclusiveness. After my presentation to Publix, or if they decline to speak to me, I will then have no choice but to boycott the corporation. While I love Publix and enjoy my employment there, I can no longer tolerate being second-class with the excuse of "traditional values" as condoned by our state.
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