GNC in Tampa Sued for Face Mask Whistleblower Retaliation

July 9, 2020

By: Deborah Childress

TAMPA, Fla. – In the midst of the City of Tampa’s newly-established face mask Executive Order and its subsequent enhancements and clarifications, a Tampa attorney has filed suit against a giant health and wellness retailer with one count of “Retaliation under the Florida Public Whistleblower’s Act.”  The lawsuit, filed against General Nutrition Corporation demands a trial by jury and seeks lost wages, benefits, and other remunerations.

On June 19, 2020, City of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor issued Executive Order 2020-27 that among other directives and exceptions, requires all persons within the city to wear face masks when indoors in any public or non-residential spaces.  Specifically, the executive order reads in part that “every person working, living, visiting or doing business in the City of Tampa shall wear a face-covering in any indoor location.”  It also indicates that persons practicing social distancing according to CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines are not required to wear face masks or coverings, according to the City’s website. 

Written with reference to Florida Statute 252.46, Castor declared the executive order was empowered with “the full force and effect of law.”  Pursuant to the City of Tampa’s Code Section S-403, it is classified as a “non-criminal civil infraction,” if disobeyed.

According to the lawsuit’s plaintiff, GNC Store Manager Wilfredo Rivera, Jr., the defendant unjustly terminated his employment over a dispute regarding non-compliance with the City of Tampa’s face mask Executive Order. 

On or about June 22, customers entered the store without facial coverings.  When approached by Rivera, who then stated the use of a facial mask was required in the store, one of the customers allegedly became physically aggressive and shouted expletives at Rivera.  The customer thereafter contacted the “GNC” business operator regarding the requirement of a face mask when visiting the store.

On or about June 23, the store’s “GNC” district manager explained to Rivera the store policy did not require compliance with the City’s mask requirements, citing that the company did not want to lose sales to the Executive Order.  Rivera then disagreed with and complained to the district manager about the store’s non-compliance, which allegedly prompted the district manager to suspend Rivera pending an investigation.

Meanwhile, on June 23, the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group adopted a new Executive Order that states “all business operators of an indoor location of a business that is open to the public in Hillsborough County shall require all persons within the location to wear a face covering.”  It also declares that “all business operators shall be required to ensure compliance with and enforce the provisions of this Order.”  Immediately thereafter, City Mayor Jane Castor added the Emergency Policy Group’s new Executive Order to her own directives under a new Executive Order 2020-30.  This new addition to facial covering law requirements became effective on June 24.  On this date, Rivera was terminated from his employment.  He was employed by the company in October 2019.

Rivera’s attorney is Jason B. Woodside

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