Burger King employee challenges chain after death of transgender coworker with COVID-19 symptoms

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — A Burger King employee in Santa Monica, California, has filed a complaint with both state and county authorities following the death of a transgender coworker who exhibited COVID-19 symptoms.

The complaint, filed by Yolanda Garcia with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, alleges that at least one of the fast-food restaurant’s managers blamed the death of employee Angela Martinez Gómez on hormone injections, KTLA reported.

The complaint also alleges that after a second employee developed COVID-like symptoms, other workers are concerned about the restaurant’s “dangerous” environment, including infrequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces, lack of face masks and poor enforcement of social distancing policies, the TV station reported.

Specifically, Garcia’s complaint calls for the restaurant’s immediate closure, requesting that all employees be quarantined with pay and “to take all appropriate steps to hold Burger King accountable for the dangerous and deadly conditions it has demanded that we work in.”

According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, employees said Gómez died July 6, after managers let her come to work for a full week while exhibiting COVID-like symptoms. She left her shift early June 29, and was treating her cough, nausea and frequent bathroom breaks with over-the-counter medications.

“Several workers walked out for safety on July 6, after learning of Angela’s death…A worker shouldn’t have to die and workers shouldn’t have to strike to call attention to COVID-19 safety at Burger King,” the complaint stated.

Garcia said in the complaint she is the third employee who worked during that same timeframe to develop COVID-19 symptoms.

“I feel very worried and I have a bad headache,” she wrote. “July 8 I woke up coughing with chills, shaking and body aches, my right lung hurts making it difficult to breathe, and I am very tired. I am worried about my health and my family’s health; eight of us live together, and my brother and I both have diabetes. Last week I visited my grandchildren, and now I do not know if I have COVID-19, or if I gave it to them. I am worried.”

Garcia said Gómez had been taking hormones throughout her transition and she couldn’t conceive of the medications suddenly causing her death. Rather, Garcia thinks the company was trying to avoid responsibility for the situation, given Gómez had been sick while working, the Daily Press reported.

Speaking to the newspaper through a translator, Garcia said she signed up for the first available COVID-19 test but continued to suffer from a cough, loss of appetite, headache, chills and weakness.

On Friday, several employees held a silent protest in front of the fast-food restaurant, including a makeshift memorial for Gómez and signs with her picture that read, “Say her name,” KTLA reported.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Angela Martinez Gómez, who had worked at Burger King for more than fifteen years,” a Burger King spokesperson said in a written statement to the TV station. “The restaurant will undergo a deep disinfection this evening.”

According to the statement, all employees who were in contact with Gómez “during their most recent shifts” are being instructed to quarantine.