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Ex-worker sues Vitro over mask wearing

Dorsey claims ADA violation in removal from position

A former employee of Vitro Autoglass LLC of Tyrone has filed a federal lawsuit in Johnstown charging the company with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for discharging him because he said he could not wear a face mask while doing his job due to medical conditions.

In the lawsuit, Jonah Dorsey of Altoona said he was employed by Vitro, also known as the Pittsburgh Glass Works, for 18 months when the company temporarily shut down in late March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dorsey was called back to his job in the glass fabrication warehouse on June 21.

The company, in calling back its workforce, stated that wearing a facial mask while working was mandatory.

According to the lawsuit, he thought the policy was appropriate, but he maintained he could not wear a mask due to his medical conditions, which included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

However, he donned a face mask due to the company’s policy, but had to leave work after suffering severe coughing and anxiety. He was permitted to leave for the day, but was told he needed a doctor’s excuse in order to return to work without a mask.

Despite presenting the company with medical documentation indicating he was able to do his job, but he could not wear a face mask for medical reasons, the company took a “no-negotiation, no accommodation” stance and would not permit him to return without a face mask, according to the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Johnstown by Bensalem attorney Ari R. Karpf.

It continued, stating Dorsey could have been “easily accommodated.”

He could have:

* Worked without a mask at his own peril.

* Socially distanced himself from others.

* Been permitted to wear a face shield that did not obstruct his breathing.

The company refused to engage in further discussion with Dorsey, the lawsuit stated.

He was “discriminatorily removed from his position … and/or constructively terminated …,” it stated.

Also named as defendants in the case are two employment agencies that provide staffing services for Vitro — Staff Management Solutions LLC of Chicago and Trueblue Inc. of Tacoma, Washington.

Dorsey is asking that the company be barred from continuing the alleged discriminatory policy and that it compensate him for lost wages.

He also is requesting punitive damages, and damages for emotional distress.

U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson last Friday referred the case to the court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution program in an attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement of the case.

Dorsey is suing Vitro for “discrimination, retaliation and failure to accommodate” as outlined under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A spokeswoman for Vitro in Tyrone said she was not aware of any lawsuit and stated, “so, we have no comment.”

Dorsey’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

The petition filed in the Dorsey case is the second challenging mask-wearing policies by private businesses in the area.

Earlier this year, a federal lawsuit by multiple customers of the Giant Eagle Grocery Store chain, headquartered in Pittsburgh, contended the corporation’s policies of requiring all customers, including those with breathing problems, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

All of those cases have been consolidated under U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer.

Attorney Thomas B. Anderson of Pittsburgh, representing the customers, recently argued the COVID-19 emergency does not invalidate the ADA civil rights act.

Attorney Johnathan B. Marcus, on behalf of Giant Eagle, contended the ADA “permits neutrally-applied policies that protect health and safety of customers and employees, even if the policy excludes individuals with disabilities.”

Fischer has yet to issue an opinion addressing the customers’ request for an injunction barring discrimination against the medically disabled.

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