A Ceres, California woman is upset at her gym after she says she was kicked out for refusing to wear a mask.
Sara Fontana is a member of InShape Health Clubs, a California chain of gyms and fitness centers. During a recent visit, she said she was confronted by management who told her state law required her to wear a mask.
Fontana complained, saying she was exempt from the mask mandate because she has asthma, a recognized medical condition. Despite this, she said she was asked to leave.
The legal confusion over state-imposed mask mandates has generated a significant amount of public confusion, with some people claiming the government is “infringing” on their rights by forcing them to wear a mask in the middle of an international health crisis.
One group calling itself the “Freedom to Breath Agency” even started selling cards online that claimed the bearer is entitled to an exemption from mask mandates because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, prompting the Federal Trade Commission to issue a rare statement saying the cards were fake and the information printed on them misleading and false.
“Seen cards that say you don’t have to wear a mask because of a disability?” the FTC’s warning says. “They have the Department of Justice…seal, but they’re not from the federal government. DOJ has said not to rely on the information in the cards.”
Information from the Centers for Disease Control says wearing a cloth or other type of mask is shown to be effective in combatting the novel coronavirus COVID-19 because they “reduce the spray of droplets when worn [correctly] over the nose and mouth.”
But the CDC also says cloth face coverings shouldn’t be worn by a certain group of people, including children who are under the age of two years old or anyone who has a legitimate medical condition where using a cloth mask would be difficult.
Following CDC guidance and similar advice from local health officials, California adopted those exemptions and others when it mandated the wearing of cloth masks in public and indoor businesses last month.
So why was Fontana kicked out of her local gym?
Sacramento legal expert Mark Reichel said a business can legally ask someone to leave for not following the state mask mandate if a person can’t back up their claim of a medical exemption with some kind of proof.
“The burden is on [the customer] to prove their exemption is legitimate and back it up with medical paperwork,” Mark told CBS13 News.
If a business makes other accommodations for a customer who claims they can’t wear a mask, the customer can be asked to leave if they don’t accept that offer.
In this case, InShape Health Clubs is likely in the clear because it informed guests last month that they wouldn’t be allowed to access a gym without a face covering, and it provides an avenue for members to contact their local gym’s manager or send an email to InShape’s corporate office to request an accommodation because of a disability.
In a statement to CBS13 News, InShape said it extended the same offer to Fontana, but she refused.
“We offered [Fontana], as we do with all members, an opportunity to work with us on finding an accommodation to keep her safe and all members around her safe,” InShape Health Clubs CEO Francesca Schuler said in a statement to CBS13 News. “But she chose to not take advantage of it which then could place other members in the club at risk.”
InShape told the news outlet it has chosen not to cancel Fontana’s membership and wants to work with her in the future toward a solution that will keep her and other guests safe.