“Giant Eagle is being sued by 34 people across western Pennsylvania – including five from Greater Johnstown – who alleged company employees often used aggressive measures to enforce what plaintiffs call an “illegal” mask policy.
The lawsuit includes allegations by customers across western Pennsylvania suffering from different medical conditions.
The plaintiffs include a Pittsburgh-area woman with respiratory issues who said she “passed out” and hit her head in a Butler County store’s checkout line because she wore a mask to comply; a Crawford County woman alleging an employee struck her with a shopping cart after she removed her mask inside a Meadville store; and a Venango County man who said a police officer injured his neck after the store reported him for trespassing.
In this region, the suit also includes two Johnstown residents suffering from post traumatic stress disorder – one of them a veteran – who separately said they left the University Park store after being harassed about not wearing masks or wearing them properly and another Johnstown area resident who said he was escorted from the store by police while trying to pick up a prescription for his respiratory issues.
Customers from Bedford, Ebensburg and Northern Cambria are also among those filing lawsuits about issue’s with Giant Eagle’s mask policy, court documents show.
The civil cases continue to add up against the Pittsburgh-based grocery store company, which has defended its policy as in line with federal Centers for Disease Control and state guidelines.
The cases have been consolidated in to a single case under Pittsburgh U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer.
Pittsburgh Attorney Thomas Anderson, who has been collecting suits against the grocery chain since May, has filed each of the 34 cases.
In his filings, he wrote that the chain’s corporate policy violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, treating customers with disabilities as “lepers” rather than guests.
While state officials, including Gov Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, have continued to direct Pennsylvanians to wear masks to stop the spread of COVID-19, the lawsuit notes that their mandates contain an exception to the state’s mask-wearing policies for individuals “who cannot wear a mask” due to medical conditions – in this case, issues such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, emphysema and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Giant Eagle cannot violate federal and state law and exclude disabled people from its public accommodations because their disabilities prohibit them from wearing masks,” Anderson wrote.
The group is seeking compensatory relief.
Giant Eagle spokesman Dick Roberts said the company had no comment on the legal action.
Area stores advise customers that masks are required for entry. While Giant Eagle’s website did not appear to list a mask policy, it noted steps taken to promote social distancing – such as one-way aisles and no-contact curbside pickup – among measures that go “above and beyond” to protect employees and customers.
Anderson counters that the company has not enforced its mask requirements in other states, including Ohio.