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Giant Eagle lawsuits over virus procedures increase

Grocery chain under fire for mask policy

The number of lawsuits against Giant Eagle supermarkets in Pennsylvania has risen to 32 as the result of the company’s policy denying entry to customers who say they cannot wear facial masks due to medical conditions that cause them breathing problems.

Two new lawsuits were filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Johnstown by customers who were asked to leave Giant Eagle stores in Roaring Spring and Johnstown.

This brought the total number of lawsuits to six filed in Johnstown; 26 others were filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The other lawsuits involve stores in and around Pittsburgh and are filed in the U.S. District Court in Allegheny County.

The attorney representing the customers, Thomas B. Anderson, contends Giant Eagle Inc., in denying service to customers with medical conditions, has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Pennsylvania’s April 19 order addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and policies of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, in a statement issued during the first wave of lawsuits, stated that the company believes the legal complaints have no merit and stated the requirement that all customers and employees wear facial masks is to create “a safe and comfortable environment for everyone.”

The company maintains it is in conformity with guidance from the CDC and Gov. Tom Wolf’s order.

The company also stated it offers alternative shopping methods for those who cannot wear facial masks in the store.

The lawsuits, however, point out that Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 order permits customers with medical conditions that impede their breathing to enter the stores and that the customers are not required to provide a medical excuse.

The CDC policy referred in the legal complaints states, “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 two newest cases filed in Johnstown include:

— Molly Shirk of Loysburg, Bedford County, who has medical conditions preventing her from wearing a mask and who suffers from facial pain while wearing a mask.

— Michael Hammers of Johnstown, a disabled veteran suffering from allergies and chronic sinusitis, among other conditions.

The Shirk lawsuit stated that she entered Giant Eagle’s Roaring Spring store on April 30, and because she was not wearing a mask, an employee yelled at her. As she tried to explain her medical condition the employee “talked over her” and told her she had to leave the store immediately. She left without purchasing groceries.

An employee yelled at Hammers, also not wearing a mask, when he entered the Giant Eagle on Scalp Avenue in Johnstown on May 31.

The employee explained it was company policy that everyone had to wear a mask, so Hammers, who as with his wife, placed a bandana over his mouth.

According to the lawsuit, he was told that was not enough — the mask had to cover his nose as well.

He responded he could not cover his nose because he would be unable to breathe.

Hammers was told he had to leave the store, which he did.

His wife completed the shopping, but, as explained in the lawsuit, the employee checking her out at the cash register was wearing a mask that covered only her mouth — in the same fashion as her husband, who was asked to leave the store.

The customers are suing for violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and for retaliation and coercion in violation of the ADA.

The federal actions are seeking an injunction prohibiting Giant Eagle from discriminating against individuals with medical conditions.

The lawsuits say that Giant Eagle’s mask policies apply only to the company’s Pennsylvania stores and not to those in Ohio, West Virginia or Indiana.

All of the cases so far have been consolidated for disposition by U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer in Pittsburgh.

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