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Mask lawsuit gets more time

The federal judge presiding over a civil rights lawsuit in which customers of Giant Eagle Inc. claim they are forced to wear masks when shopping, allegedly in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, has granted the plaintiffs additional time to respond to the grocery chain’s policy.

U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer in Pittsburgh has given Thomas B. Anderson, the attorney representing more than 30 Giant Eagle customers, until Sept. 4 to answer the company’s contention that it is not breaking the law by requiring all customers, including those with medical issues, to wear masks when inside Giant Eagle stores in western Pennsylvania.

The deadline for Anderson to file his response was Wednesday, but Fisher granted him additional time, primarily to allow the filing of medical records of the plaintiffs.

Giant Eagle did not object to the extension of time.

A recent injunction request by Anderson asking the federal court to end to Giant Eagle’s policy focused on the case of one of the 30-plus customers who filed the lawsuits.

In May, Josiah Kostek was barred from further entry into the Oil City Giant Eagle store because he contends that his medical conditions, including anxiety and panic attacks, prevent him from wearing a mask.

Giant Eagle in its July 15 answer to the lawsuits questioned the customer’s medical issues, contending he was ideologically against masks.

“Kostek seeks a sweeping preliminary injunction to advance his apparent ideological view that no one should be required to wear a face covering,” stated the filing by Giant Eagle attorney Jonathan D. Marcus of Pittsburgh.

On Monday, Anderson, on behalf of Kostek, indicated he wanted to file Kostek’s medical records to support his contention that wearing a mask would be injurious to his client’s health.

The judge gave Kostek permission to file his medical records as part of the injunction request.

She also noted that Kostek and others involved in the case can file their medical records under seal, meaning the records will not be available to the public.

In answer to the lawsuits, Giant Eagle stated Kostek had no basis to claim Giant Eagle’s policy relies on “speculation, stereotypes or generalizations” concerning individuals with disabilities.

The Pittsburgh-based company noted that its policy applies to all customers, stating any customer without a mask “poses a heightened of COVID-19 transmission.”

“The law does not require Giant Eagle to take that risk,” it stated.

The plaintiffs claim that recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and orders issued by Gov. Tom Wolfe and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, provide an exception to Giant Eagle’s mask-wearing mandate by individuals with disabilities that affect their breathing.

The Giant Eagle Stores named in the lawsuit are spread throughout western Pennsylvania, including those in Roaring Spring, Bedford, Ebensburg, Northern Cambria and Johnstown.

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