Over the past two weeks, half a dozen current and former Publix employees have contacted New Times to complain that the company discriminates against gay workers. One went as far as to say he'd been treated like a "second-class" citizen by the supermarket chain.
Publix denies the allegations. But there is at least one official decision on the books backing up the complaints. In September 2012, Broward County's Human Rights Board ruled that Publix had wrongly fired a cake decorator because he's gay, awarding him $100,000.
What did Publix argue? That the cake decorator was axed for illegally giving a co-worker part of a red-velvet cake bar.
"We disagree with, and are contesting the ruling," said Nicole Kruass, a Publix spokeswoman. "This former associate was not released for sexual orientation, but for violating our company policies."
According to his complaint, Richard Glisson worked at several Publix stores in Broward County for ten years. Then, in February 2010, another employee was caught stealing gift cards and money from the store.
While he was being interviewed by a Publix "loss prevention specialist," the employee began snitching on others. He said Glisson had given him cookies and once -- worst of all -- a red-velvet cake bar.
When interviewed, Glisson admitted to giving his co-worker the cake bar but pointed out that it was a kind that the store no longer sold (and therefore couldn't sell). Under Publix policy, he argued, employees are encouraged to sample such items to better assist customers.
Glisson was fired. Meanwhile, other employees who admitted to taking drinks and food without paying were merely warned. Glisson's manager was found to have "consistently" arrived late to work and allowed a little girl to work in the bakery, but was only demoted.
The cake decorator filed a complaint with the Broward County Human Rights Board. In September 2012, the board came down firmly in his favor.
"We conclude that Mr. Glisson has proven his case of discrimination," the three-member panel decided. "The record shows that [District Manager David] Thoman, and by extension Publix, treated similarly situated non-homosexual employees in a more favorable fashion. The record also supports the conclusion that Mr. Thoman's stated reason for terminating Mr. Glisson was a pretext for impermissible discrimination.
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"Though Mr. Thoman testified that his sole reason for terminating Mr. Glisson was for his 'admissions of theft,' when compared to the discipline given to the comparators, the near verbatim wording of Mr. Glisson's Associate Statement, on which Mr. Thomas claims he based his decision to terminate, we are left with only one logical conclusion: that the real motivating factor behind Mr. Glisson's termination was impermissible discrimination based upon his sexual orientation."
The board then awarded Glisson $98,408. Publix is appealing the decision, but Glisson's attorney, Scott Behren, expects a final decision in the next few months.