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Lawsuit alleges local Publix store altered 'sell-by' dates on meat products

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Posted at 2:00 PM, May 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-03 14:00:00-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - A former Publix butcher is suing the company, claiming that she was fired after she reported cross-contamination and unsafe food handling practices at the Southwood Village store. 

The discrimination lawsuit was filed in Leon County Circuit Court on April 29.

According to the suit, Tracy Aiken had been employed as a "meat cutter" at the Southwood Village Publix since September 2001 and, in her first 14 years of employment, had never received a complaint. 

However, five years before she was fired, an African-American man was hired and eventually became the meat manager at the store. A year before Aiken was fired, another store manager was hired. His race is not specified in the suit.

The lawsuit alleges that Aiken, who is a white woman, was mistreated by both men and another African-American male employee due to her race, gender, and her reporting of "cross contamination and other unsafe food handling practices that were occurring in the meat market."

In June 2014, Aiken began noticing that the "sell-by" dates on several Porterhouse steaks had been changed to add additional time for sale.

When Aiken reported it to her meat manager, however, he became upset and began to "nit pick" her work.

In July 2014, Aiken again reported that sell-by dates on certain chicken products had been changed to add five days for sale.

And again, according to Aiken, her manager got upset, going so far as to inform her during a work performance evaluation that she had "a mouth," and that he wanted her to work on that.

Months later, the lawsuit says Aiken told her manager she was aware that the dates on meat were still being changed and told him she knew he was deliberately assigning her to the back to keep her from seeing what was happening.

The manager got upset about that, becoming "aggressive by getting in [Aiken's] face."

The suit says that the assistant manager at the store failed to investigate the meat dating issues any further, even after Aiken approached him about it two more times in 2015.

In March 2016, the suit says Aiken began seeing employees mislabel meat products and observed other improper procedures including the cross-contamination of meats through the machines.

Aiken claims that she witnessed her meat manager and other employees neglecting to clean the machines before processing different kinds of meat. 

Whenever she confronted her manager about this, the suit alleges he got angry and even shoved her on several occasions. Another employee also "physically assaulted" Aiken on two separate occasions. 

In December 2016, Aiken reported the treatment to human resources. The next day, an employee shoved her to the floor. 

When she reported it however, the store manager accused her of lying and sent her home.

According to the lawsuit, Aiken was contacted on January 6, 2017 and told to return to work on Jan. 9 to speak with her manager. When she did, she was terminated.

Based on her treatment, the suit alleges that Aiken was the victim of retaliatory actions as well as racial and gender based discrimination.