This week’s question comes from Domenic A. who writes:
Q: “I have a medical respiratory condition that makes breathing difficult when wearing personal protective equipment. I was out of town on business staying at a well-known hotel chain. The hotel requires all guests to wear personal protective equipment at all times, unless actively eating or drinking and enforces social distancing requirements. I informed the hotel manager of my medical condition that made wearing personal protective equipment harmful to my health and asked for an accommodation for my medical condition. The manager of the hotel chain refused to accommodate my medical condition and required me to wear my personal protective equipment. Do I have any legal recourse based on the hotel manager’s failure to accommodate my medical disability and requiring me to wear a face covering?”
A: Domenic, thank you for asking a great question.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities Title III Regulations – 61. 28 CFR Part 36, protects individuals who are targets of discrimination including, but not limited to mental and medical disabilities. Determining the existence of discrimination is complicated as we are currently navigating unprecedented waters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On June 30, 2020, U.S. Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Eric Dreiband issued press release 20-603 warning the public that placards, signs, social media posts and other documents bearing the Department of Justice seal claiming that the Americans with Disabilities Act exempts individuals from face mask requirements are fraudulent. There is no blanket exemption.
On June 18, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all Californians to wear face coverings. As updated on June 29, the California Department of Public Health website, the following individuals are exempt from wearing a face covering:
- People younger than 2 years old. These very young children must not wear a face covering because of the risk of suffocation.
- People with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. This includes people with a medical condition whose wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing; or who are unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.
Note: People exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition who are employed in a job involving regular contact with others should wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, as long as their condition permits it.
While there are exemptions to the governor’s mandatory face covering order for those with medical disabilities, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, if the hotel manager is unable to accommodate any documented medical condition related to personal protective equipment, there is no basis for legal action under these circumstances.
If you feel your rights have been violated, you may file a federal, state and local complaint form with the appropriate governmental entity listed below.
- U.S. Department of Justice: https://www.ada.gov/t2cmpfrm.htm
- State of California, Department of General Services: https://www.documents.dgs.ca.gov/dgs/ADA-form.pdf
- City and County of San Francisco: https: //sfgov.org/mod/ada-complaint-request-assistance