A lawsuit brought by a Bedford-area woman is one of dozens filed in the western half of the commonweath against Giant Eagle regarding its face mask polic — a policy that the plaintiffs say violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and alleges that the chain treats customers with disabilities “like ‘lepers’ rather than ‘guests.’ ”
The lawsuit, on behalf of Vicki Parker, whose address was not identified, was filed by Pittsburgh attorneys Thomas B. Anderson of Thomson, Rhodes & Cowie P.C. of Pittsburgh.
It asserts that Parker, suffers from several health conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure and anxiety, that keep her from wearing a face mask.
According to the suit, Parker, on April 28, was told by a Bedford Giant Eagle employee that she could not shop in the store without a mask. The suit claims Parker told the employee that she suffered from health conditions that made her unable to do so, but the employee told her that she would have to leave because not wearing a mask was a violation “of other shoppers’ safety and is for everyone’s safety.”
The suit asserts that the employee offered to complete Parker’s shopping, but told her she would have to leave if she did not wear a mask. She attempted to complete her shopping but after repeated threats, waited in her car for her groceries.
On May 19, the lawsuit states, Parker returned to the store and was approached while in the produce section and told she had to wear a mask. The employee responded, “That doesn’t matter ... it’s the store’s policy for our customers to wear a mask.”
At this time, the suit says, Parker produced a copy of Gov. Tom Wolf’s April 15 order, issued under the direction of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel levine, directing that store customers needed to wear masks. The order, however, specifically states that, “individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition … may enter the premises and are not required to provide documentation of such medical condition.”
The lawsuit notes that “Giant Eagle implemented policies and procedures that require all customers to wear masks even if they are disabled and they cannot wear a mask due to their medical conditions. This policy filed in the face of recommendations from the CDC which state: ‘Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under the age of 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.’”
The suit asserts that Giant Eagle published this policy: “Moving forward until further notice in order to shop in our store (or any other Giant Eagle location) you must be wearing a mask. There will be no exceptions regardless of any reason or medical condition.”
The lawsuit further states that the owner of one Giant Eagle store (not specified in the lawsuit) posted publicly that while Gov. Wolf’s edict that customers should wear a mask while in the stores included an exception for those with heath issues, the entire company decided not to comply.
“It’s too easy to make up an excuse to wear a mask, and we refuse to put our team members and customers who do wear a mask at any more risk than they already are. Health and safety of our community is more important to us than business.”
It also notes that Giant Eagle employees who provide medical excuses are not required to wear a mask.
The suit also states that a security guard at another Giant Eagle location told a customer that Giant Eagle is a private company and not required to comply with the ADA.
The lawsuit says Giant Eagle has justified the policy by offering to have an employee shop for the customer or offering curbside pickup and delivery services.
But it notes that discrimination under the ADA “includes a failure to provide services to a disabled person to the extent that such services are provided to no-disabled persons.”
It asserts that Parker had no COVID-19 symptoms, and claims that “Giant Eagle simply did not want to be bothered with the exception …”
The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, but rather “injunctive relief” and attorney’s fees and expenses.
A total of 34 lawsuits have been filed from locations including Cambria, Indiana and Somerset counties.
A Giant Eagle corporate spokesman in an email, said, “Giant Eagle does not comment on active litigation and has nothing additional to add.”