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Do Your Mask Policies Violate the Americans with Disabilities Act?

 

COVID-19 has made mask policies both controversial and ubiquitous. As mandatory store polices and statewide polices become universal, more lawsuits challenging mask requirements pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act are filed. Do mask policies violate the Americans with Disabilities Act?

 

Background

In Giles v. Sprouts Farmers Mkt., plaintiff alleged defendant’s corporate policy requiring all customers to wear masks while inside its stores with no exception for medical conditions was discrimination against plaintiff’s disability.i The Court found there was no valid cause of action upon which relief could be granted and granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. Plaintiff was given leave to amend her complaint. The Court’s decision focused on defendant’s mask policy, and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).ii The ADA requires “reasonable modifications” when necessary to provide services and goods to those with disabilities.iii However, it does carve out an exception when an individual poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others.iv

 

Legal Analysis

A valid Title III claim requires plaintiff to show (1) she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) defendant is a private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation, and (3) she was denied public accommodations by defendant because of her disability.v

The court found plaintiff’s claims of “issues with ‘breathing,’ such that she ‘cannot wear a mask or face covering without experiencing shortness of breath’” was sufficient to allege she was disabled under the ADA.vi However, these allegations were not sufficient to show she was plausibly denied public accommodations due to her disability. Further, defendant’s policy allowed modifications such as the use of face shields, personal shoppers, curbside pickup, and online delivery, clearly showing a lack of discrimination. Multiple agencies, such as the CDC, have stated individuals who do not wear masks in public can be threats to public health, citing the issue of asymptomatic individuals.vii

 

Takeaway

There is no clear-cut answer. The court’s decision concludes mask policies do not violate the ADA and shows the courts are more concerned with public health than the potential of discrimination on the basis of disability due to mask policies. The Department of Justice has also weighed in, stating the ADA “does not provide blanket exceptions to people with disabilities from complying with legitimate safety requirements for safe operations.”viii Businesses should note providing accommodations to those customers who cannot wear masks such as curbside pickup and delivery can provide a strong defense to potential ADA suits.

 

 

i Giles v. Sprouts Farmers Mkt.(2021) 20-cv-2131-GPC-JLB.

ii Id.

iii ADA Title III Regulation 28 CFR Part 36, Sec. 36.302

iv Id.

v ADA Title III Regulation.

vi Giles v. Sprouts Farmers Mkt.(2021) 20-cv-2131-GPC-JLB

vii Id.

viii The United States Department of Justice, The Department of Justice Warns of Inaccurate Flyers and Postings Regarding the Use of Face Masks and the Americans with Disabilities Act (June 30, 2020), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-warns-inaccurate-flyers-and-postings-regarding-use-face-masks-and

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