Tampa, FL (WorkersCompensaton.com) – For much of 2020, mask mandates were in place that required customers shopping at grocery stores and other retailers to cover their mouths and noses while in the establishment.
As a customer learned in Pitner v. Costco Wholesale Corp., No. 8:21-cv-410-TPB-SPF (M.D. Fla. 08/16/21), challenging stores’ enforcement of those rules requires procedural steps before heading to court with an argument that a mask order broke the law.
In November 2020, the customer attempted to enter a Costco store, whereupon an employee requested that the customer don a mask before entering. The customer refused and an altercation ensued, leading to Costco canceling the customer’s membership days later.
The customer sued Costco, alleging that the retailer’s COVID safety protocols violated the Florida Civil Rights Act.
As a prerequisite to bringing claims under the FCRA, a plaintiff must timely file a charge of discrimination with either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Then, a plaintiff may bring an FCRA claim to court only if the EEOC or FCHR determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discrimination occurred.
The customer’s case lacked evidence that he exhausted these administrative remedies before taking his case to court.
“[The customer] does not allege generally that he exhausted his administrative remedies or satisfied conditions precedent,” the court wrote. “[The customer] only asserts that he filed a complaint with the FCHR on December 13, 2020, and he has not indicated whether he has received a response.”
The court also rejected the customer’s claim that Costco violated its contract with him by requiring him to mask up.
“The membership agreement appears to allow [Costco] to terminate any membership at its discretion and without cause,” the court wrote.
As a result, the customer’s case could not go forward.