April 7, 2020, 12:07 PM EDT / Updated April 7, 2020, 2:40 PM EDT By Minyvonne Burke
A Walmart spokesperson confirmed to NBC News on Tuesday that two workers at a Chicago-area store died after contracting the virus.
“We are heartbroken at the passing of two associates at our Evergreen Park store and we are mourning along with their families,” the company said in a statement.
The employees were identified in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the company as Wando Evans, 51, and Phillip Thomas, 48.
Evans’ brother, Toney Evans, filed the suit against Walmart Inc. on Monday in a Cook County Circuit Court, claiming willful and wanton misconduct, reckless disregard and gross negligence.
The suit alleges that managers at the store in Evergreen Park, about 17 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, failed to alert workers after several employees began showing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Walmart “had a duty to exercise reasonable care in keeping the store in a safe and healthy environment and, in particular, to protect employees, customers and other individuals within the store from contracting COVID-19 when it knew or should have known that individuals at the store were at a very high risk of infection and exposure,” the lawsuit states.
Wando Evans, an overnight stock and maintenance associate, first began experiencing symptoms in mid-March and told a store manager, “but was ignored,” the brother’s attorney, Tony Kalogerakos, said in a press release.
On March 23, the 51-year-old was sent home from work. Two days later he was found dead in his home.
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Kalogerakos said that Walmart had a responsibility to notify store employees that a colleague was showing symptoms of the coronavirus, but they did not. Four days after Evans’ death, Thomas died of the virus, according to the suit.
Walmart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield said that the store has conducted a deep cleaning, and as “an extra precaution,” an outside company was brought in to further assist in disinfecting the store.
Hatfield said the company has not yet been served the lawsuit, but they “take this issue seriously.”
Melissa Love, a member of the labor advocacy group United for Respect, has worked for Walmart for the past four years.
She said in a statement through the organization that it’s terrifying that two workers from the same store died from the virus and criticized Walmart for waiting to take action.
From left: Jim Walton, Alice Walton, Jim’s wife Lynne McNabb Walton, Rob Walton’s wife Melani Lowman Walton and Rob Walton. PHOTOGRAPH: RICK T. WILKING / STRINGE