Florida's most beloved supermarket faces allegations of mistreating LGBTQ workers

Korin Miller

If you’ve ever spent time in Florida, you probably know that people there love Publix. The supermarket chain is hugely popular with residents of the Sunshine State. There’s even fan merchandise available online for die-hards.

But despite the huge following, Publix has developed a bad reputation in the LGBTQ community after repeatedly facing accusations of discrimination, as the Miami New Times points out in a new article titled, “Hey, Florida, It’s Time to Stop Blindly Adoring Publix.” The New Times lists several reasons why: In 2012, Publix was ordered to pay cake decorator and former employee Richard Glisson $98,000 after he says he was fired for being gay. (Publix maintains it fired Glisson for giving away a red-velvet cake bar, per the Sun Sentinel.)

Photo: AP Images

One Publix worker told the New Times that in 2014 he was denied bereavement leave when his partner of 33 years died, while his heterosexual colleagues received the benefit. He also claimed that he was flat-out told he was passed over for a management position twice because of his “lifestyle.”

The Human Rights Campaign currently rates Publix on its website as a 0 for LGBT friendliness, citing the chain’s lack of a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, no health insurance offerings to domestic partners, and no bereavement leave for partners, among other things.

“From our chair looking at the work that we do with corporate America, they are an outlier in the Fortune 500 in terms of their LGBTQ-inclusive workplace policies, practices, and benefits,” Beck Bailey, deputy director for the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Project, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. The HRC conducts an annual LGBT workers’ rights survey of major companies in the U.S. to determine the organization’s Corporate Equality Index, and Publix repeatedly doesn’t participate in it, “even though they’re invited every year to do so,” Bailey says. “That makes them an outlier in what today is best and standard practice on workplace inclusion.”

And workplace inclusion is good for business, Jonathan D. Lovitz, senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Companies like Publix will likely learn the most valuable lesson that most of the Fortune 500 has learned: Diversity and inclusion is the best decision they can make,” he says. “The LGBT community spends $917 billion a year on consumer goods and services, and we make very conscientious decisions on where we spend our money.”

Worth noting: Just today Publix disclosed that the company will be covering Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a once-daily pill that can help a patient stay HIV-negative, after coming under pressure from HRC and other LGBT-rights groups, as well as some Florida lawmakers (including state Rep. Carlos G. Smith, an Orlando Democrat). However, Bailey says that covering PrEP is an important aspect of inclusive health care coverage but that “it’s not everything.”

While it’s possible simply to take your dollars elsewhere, Publix fans who want to stand up for LGBT rights can make change by speaking up publicly. “If everyone who is concerned about how a corporation like Publix is doing business uses their voice on social media, on their websites, and in their local press, that coupled with changing their spending habits will have an immediate effect on how Publix’s bottom line causes an overall shift in corporate operations,” Lovitz says. Bailey cites the company’s recent change on PrEP coverage as proof. “We’ve certainly seen in this recent episode around PrEP that folks speaking up as employees, members of the advocacy community, consumers, and local politicians making it clear that they believe inclusive policies and benefits are important is useful in terms of changing the corporate mindset and being a catalyst for change,” Bailey says.

Publix did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.

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