North Carolina

Publix employee was punched because she didn't hear a customer. She's deaf.

Liberty Gratz
Liberty Gratz Courtesy of Jeanette Gratz

Liberty Gratz is deaf and she is slowly losing her sight.

That hasn't stopped her from working. But on the afternoon of April 22, she had an interaction with a customer at the Midlothian, Va. Publix grocery store where she works that will stay with her.

Gratz was kneeling down to arrange items on a lower shelf when a customer hit her.

"All of a sudden, I felt some woman hit me in my back," Liberty said through her mother, Jeanette Gratz's, interpreting, according to CBS 17.

Gratz couldn't hear the woman asking where to find an item in the store, so the woman became violent, her mother told The News & Observer on April 24.

"At this point Liberty was stunned, but turned and told the lady she couldn’t hear by pointing to her ear and shaking her head no," Jeanette said. "She handed the lady a pen and paper so she could tell her what she needed, then showed her where it was. She said the lady still acted and looked angry while she was helping her."

Publix was supportive and management searched security footage, but no one could determine the identity of the woman who hit Gratz.

"They kept looking again and again and again, but you couldn't see because there were so many people blocking the camera," Liberty signed while her mother interpreted for CBS17. "It was hard for me to really see her face to make sure it was the right person."

Gratz normally communicates with customers using paper and a pen. But her vision loss means she doesn't always see people next to her or in her periphery.

"How would you feel if you were working and someone just came up behind you and decided to punch you?" Jeanette Gratz said.

Gratz and her brother, Triton, are 21-year-old twins who were born deaf and had vision issues. The twins have Usher syndrome — the most common genetic cause of combined deafness and blindness, according to a GoFundMe campaign for the family.

Gratz and her brother use American Sign Language with family and friends.

Gratz was diagnosed with Usher syndrome and retinitis pigmentosa — the disease responsible for her blindness. Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disease that causes slow but permanent vision loss.

She already has night blindness and other symptoms. Triton also was scheduled to be tested for RP.

"This diagnoses has sucked the air right out of this family," the GoFundMe page said. "They are scared, angry, sad and confused. They are glad to finally have a diagnoses, but now they are trying to figure out those next steps, and the things they will need to learn to make sure Liberty (and Triton if diagnosed) has the best life possible despite the circumstances."

The GoFundMe account was set up to raise money for medical and travel costs and for Gratz to go to Disney World and do other traveling before she goes blind.

As of April 24, the GoFundMe account had raised more than $5,000.

Jeanette said she would pray for the person who struck her daughter.

"Whoever it is, they've been prayed for," she said. "I will continue to pray for them, and I hope that things get better in their life so they can be better to other people."

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