Publix grocery stores, which this week responded to outrage over denial of PrEP coverage and accusations it was morally motivated by promising to implement the coverage “as quickly as possible,” is being sued by a gay former employee who says he was subject to years-long homophobic harassment at work and was fired for reporting it.
Miami New Times reports on a case filed by former Miami-area Publix employee Juan Pastran:
…as a self-described “effeminate,” heavy-set gay man, he says he was subject to a years-long harassment campaign that kept escalating from bad to worse. He says other workers called him a slew of offensive names, including “fag,” “old woman,” “queer,” “puta,’ “pajaro,” and “maricon,” and that things started to get even worse in 2013.
But, when he reported his complaints to upper management, Pastran says he was abruptly fired. Now he’s suing, marking the latest case in which Publix has been accused of mistreating or turning a blind eye toward the complaints of LGBTQ employees.
“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.
More at Miami New Times....
Publix yesterday announced its health plan for employees will expand to cover Truvada use for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) “as quickly as possible” following a report earlier this week that suggested the company might be denying the coverage on moral grounds.
Wrote the company in a tweet: “Publix appreciates the concerns shared by our associates and customers. We offer generous health coverage to our eligible full-time and part-time associates at an affordable premium and are committed to the health and well-being of our associates and their families. We regularly evaluate what is covered by our health plan and have made the decision to expand our health plan’s coverage of Truvada to include Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). We are working with our pharmacy benefits manager to implement this change as quickly as possible.”
The company’s rejection of what is widely considered a major breakthrough in HIV prevention is as unique as it is puzzling, said David Holland, M.D., M.H.S., an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University and director of the Fulton County PrEP clinic in Atlanta, who unsuccessfully tried to get Publix to cover PrEP for one of the company’s employees. “We’ve started over 400 people on PrEP at our clinic alone, and this is the only person that we weren’t able to get PrEP for,” Holland said…
…The employee Holland assisted appealed the initial denial, was rejected twice more, and “was the only one we were not able to resolve through an appeal,” Holland said. “What we found out from the insurance company was that it came, ultimately, from the employer,” he added. “It wasn’t just an insurance issue; it was [that] the employer did not want it covered in the insurance.”
Publix officials did not respond to written questions about the company’s rationale for omitting coverage of PrEP for its employees, but Holland and public health advocates believe it was unlikely due to costs. Blogger Josh Robbins first reported in November 2016 that Publix was denying its employees access to PrEP, and the reasoning behind it is still unclear.
The company’s board is largely conservative and Publix scored a zero on HRC’s analysis of workplace fairness. Some are concerned that “religious freedom” to deny healthcare is at the root of it, with the Hobby Lobby case standing as justification.
Three of the seven states that Publix operates in — North Carolina, Georgia, and its home state of Florida — are ranked in the top-10 states with the highest number of HIV diagnoses in 2016, according to the CDC. The Miami metropolitan area ranked first in the county in the prevalence of HIV diagnoses, with almost 39 out of every 100,000 residents acquiring the disease in 2016, while the Atlanta area, where Fulton County health officials received pushback from Publix on PrEP coverage, ranked fourth, with 1,701 new infections in 2016, or more than 29 cases per 100,000 residents, according to CDC surveillance data.
“They’re not a mom-and-pop grocery store,” Barrington Ward said. “For them to not know that they operate in a region that carries the bulk of the epidemic at this point, that most of the new cases in the United States occur where their grocery stores are, and for them not to provide that protection for their staff is irresponsible, at the very least. Publix’s general reputation as a stellar company to work for makes their opposition to protecting their employees via PrEP even more confounding, Arromand said. “I was really shocked to learn about this because I know I have tons of friends who work for Publix and, believe it or not, I hear really great things about Publix as a corporation,” Arromand said. “The fact that they are employee-driven, the fact that there are plenty of opportunities for their employees to advance as the company grows, and certainly not least, [at a company whose motto is] ‘Where Shopping is a Pleasure,’ working at Publix should also be a pleasure for its employees,” added Arromand, who commended the work being done to increase access to PrEP in the Atlanta area, where more than 30,000 people are living with HIV.
Miami New Times notes the company’s anti-gay reputation: “In 2013, members from the rights group Equality Florida told New Times that 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 company has also donated to conservative Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio, and supported trade groups “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.“