Publix, one of the largest supermarket chains in the country, made headlines last week when it was revealed it refused to cover PrEP in its employee health insurance plan.
In a series of tweets, a Publix spokesperson indicated the plan “only covered identification, treatment or management of a medical condition,” not conditions a member might get in the future.
Activists worry the decision to deny coverage was less a cost-saving measure than an indication of the company’s moral attitudes.
“It’s not like every single employee is going to go out and get PrEP, so it can’t be cost,” Devin Barrington Ward of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS told TheBody.com. “And I guarantee you, if you did a cost analysis, it would cost them less on their insurance premiums if they covered PrEP for someone who is HIV negative versus that person becoming HIV positive.”
Publix employs 170,000 workers and garners annual sales of more than $32 billion. It’s been a family-owned company since it was founded by George W. Jenkins Jr in 1930. (In 2016, Todd Jones became the first CEO outside the Jenkins family.) But it’s been described as insular, conservative and slow to adapt—and the PreP incident was not the first time Publix has been called out by the LGBT community: In 2014, the company was ordered to pay $100,000 to a bakery employee allegedly fired because he was gay. (The order was later overturned.)
Another suit, still ongoing, alleges Publix supervisors in Miami violated privacy laws by revealing an employee’s HIV diagnosis.
The company healthcare plan forced him to fill prescriptions at Publix pharmacies, and both an assistant pharmacy manager and the store manager approached him to discuss his condition. Soon after, his status became fodder for office gossip.
The employee was finally transferred to another store, but the discrimination continued. He eventually lodged formal complaints with both district supervisors and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but, he claims, the store retaliated by demoting him and then finally firing him in April 2017.
Miami New Times claims more than a half-dozen current and former Publix employees are alleging homophobic behavior by Publix co-workers and management. One said he was routinely passed over for promotions and denied paid bereavement leave after losing his partner of 33 years.
Even if you don’t shop there, Publix’s reach is broad: The company has 1,100 locations throughout the Southeast, with stores in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. (Publix’s the second-largest private employer in Florida, home to two-thirds of all locations.)
The company has never filled out HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, even though hundreds of larger companies do, claiming it has no time for surveys.
“Publix is recognized as a great place to work and employer of choice based on the many benefits we offer our associate owners,” a spokesperson told New Times in 2013. “We follow all laws in the cities and states in which we operate.”