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Giant Eagle to respond to lawsuit

Grocery chain given time to answer suit filed by 37 customers over mask rules

Giant Eagle Inc., a Pittsburgh-based corporation with grocery stores throughout western Pennsylvania and in other states, has been given a deadline of July 27 to answer a federal lawsuit filed by 37 customers who contend the company has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing them entry into its stores unless they wear facial masks.

Giant Eagle states the mask-wearing policy provides a protective environment for its customers and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the customers who are suing say that they suffer from serious medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask.

Pittsburgh attorney Thomas B. Anderson, starting in May, filed multiple lawsuits in the U.S. District Court of Western Pennsylvania, but on Monday, he filed a new complaint that consolidates all of the lawsuits into one.

The lawsuits include alleged discriminatory incidents that occurred at 24 Giant Eagle locations, including stores in Bedford, Ebensburg, Northern Cambria, and Roaring Spring and Johnstown.

The lawsuit is now before U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer, who indicated that the corporation has until July 27 to file an answer.

One other company, C&J Grocery Co. LLC of Ligonier, also has been added to the list of stores allegedly violating the ADA.

Giant Eagle includes many independently-owned stores as well as those owned by Giant Eagle Inc., but according to the lawsuit, they all adhere to the corporate policy of refusing admission to customers who are not wearing masks.

The lawsuit points out that Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 mandates issued by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, contain an exception to the state’s mask-wearing policies for individuals suffering from medical problems that include Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, emphysema and stroke, that make it difficult for them to breath.

Others cite conditions such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety and panic attacks as reasons why the mask-wearing policy is injurious to their health.

The lawsuit claims that the Giant Eagle policy applies only to customers in Pennsylvania and not to residents of West Virgina, Ohio and Indiana where the company has other grocery outlets.

It also states that the store’s mandate that all customers wear masks violates recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the lawsuit, Title III of the Americans for Disabilities Act “establishes the general rule that no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of a disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any public accommodation.”

It points out that social distancing and other safety precautions have been in place in Giant Eagle stores and the customers with medical conditions “did not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”

The initial lawsuits asked the federal judge to issue an injunction prohibiting Giant Eagle from continuing its mask-wearing policy, but in the consolidated lawsuit filed Monday, it also requests compensatory and punitive money damages “due to the embarrassment and humiliation, anxiety, inconvenience and mental anguish and stress imposed on customers with medical conditions.”

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