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Tampa GNC worker claims he was fired after enforcing mask laws

The local employee has now filed a whistle blower lawsuit against the vitamin chain.

TAMPA — A former GNC employee who says he was fired over enforcing local mask laws has filed a whistle blower lawsuit.

Wilfredo Rivera was the manager at vitamin chain GNC at 533 S Howard Ave. In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Rivera says he was fired after a shopper called the chain’s corporate offices regarding a confrontation over mask use. Rivera says in his lawsuit he was told by a district manager the company didn’t want him to enforce face covering laws because stores would lose sales.

Rivera’s attorney, Jason Woodside, told the Tampa Bay Times that GNC’s actions were a form of retaliation because Rivera fought against the company’s policy to ignore the mask orders.

GNC did not respond to emails requesting comment. Woodside said the company has yet to respond to the lawsuit, which was filed July 24. The day before it was filed, GNC — General Nutrition Centers, Inc. ― filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Related: COVID-19 has likely quickened the end of malls as we knew them

Like other retailers often located in malls, GNC’s weak points were exacerbated by the pandemic. The health and wellness chain has announced it will close up to 1,200 of its 5,200 U.S. stores. It has yet to specify which ones.

The lawsuit says on June 22 a group of customers came in Rivera’s South Tampa location. They were not wearing masks. Rivera says he informed the group, per city of Tampa order, they had to wear masks. The shoppers “became physically aggressive … while screaming obscenities.” At least one called GNC’s corporate offices in Pennsylvania, according to the lawsuit. That prompted a higher-up to contact Rivera.

Related: ‘Highly irate:’ Tampa Bay mask rules spur hundreds of police calls

When Rivera spoke to his district manager, he says he was told enforcing mask orders was “not company policy,” according to the lawsuit. Rivera objected to the company’s anti-mask policy, which would require him to break local orders that require businesses to ensure mask use.

Rivera was told he was being suspended while the company investigated the customer complaint, the lawsuit said. Shortly afterward he says he was fired.

He is suing for damages in excess of $30,000.

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