Publix workers sue for what they say is unpaid overtime

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / The Publix at 3535 Broad St. is seen Nov. 15, 2021.
Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / The Publix at 3535 Broad St. is seen Nov. 15, 2021.

A group of past and present Publix employees, including at least one in the Chattanooga area and two in Georgia, have filed suit against the Florida-based grocery chain alleging they have been regularly compelled to work overtime without compensation.

The suit alleges that assistant department managers and department managers, who were paid by the hour, have consistently been required to do various tasks either before clocking in or after clocking out, as well as to answer texts from colleagues after work and during unpaid lunch breaks.

In the filing, made in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, attorneys asked for class-action status to include any Publix worker in a similar situation.

Officials of Publix did not respond to requests for comment.

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The company has 1,358 stores, mostly in the Southeast, as well as 10 distribution centers and 10 manufacturing or bakery centers, including one in Atlanta and one in Dacula. The company has roughly 250,000 employees.

Among the plaintiffs is Christopher Roberts of Calhoun, Tennessee, who worked as an assistant department manager from November 2019 to November 2021 at Publix stores in Cleveland and Chattanooga, the suit said.

Other plaintiffs include Jessica Schafer of Cumming, Georgia, who the suit said has worked for Publix since 2005. A second Georgia plaintiff is Caitlin Throckmorton of Douglasville, who the suit said worked for the chain in 2022 and 2023.

The suit was originally filed in October with just a few plaintiffs, all assistant managers. It was refiled last week after at least 18 other employees, including department managers, asked to join the suit, attorneys said.

While having the title of manager, those employees are all paid by the hour, said attorneys for the plaintiffs.

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Lawyers said in a statement that the practice of requiring unpaid work is a violation of the 85-year-old federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

"It's unacceptable to force hourly workers to work outside of their shifts and to not pay workers for their time," said the statement by attorneys for Morgan & Morgan and the Shavitz Law Group.

The attorneys said they estimate that Publix owes the employees, "tens of millions, if not more."

However, that kind of demand is common in the American workplace, the lawyers said, now that mobile phones make most people accessible at all hours, whether they are at work or not. They cite a study by the Economic Policy Institute estimating that the nation's workers each year are owed up to $50 billion in unpaid wages for work.

"Companies expect employees to be in constant communication but fail to track this time worked," the lawyers' statement said.

The lawsuit alleges that the practice took place in a number of states, including Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Publix employees are not unionized. Most grocery and large retail chain employees are not members of any union, although full-time Kroger employees are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Chattanooga Times Free Press staff writer Andrew Schwartz contributed to this story.

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