Disability Rights Objection to Washington Nationals’ Face Mask Mandate Can Go Forward

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From Valentine v. Washington Nationals Baseball Club, LLC, decided today by Judge Timothy Kelly (D.D.C.), the plaintiff’s allegations:

On May 5, 2021, Valentine visited the [Washington Nationals stadium] to attend a game. At that time, to comply with District of Columbia Mayor’s Order 2020-080 related to COVID-19, Defendants enforced a mask mandate on all attendees. One exemption in the Mayor’s Order, however, provides: “Wearing a mask is not required when … [a] person is unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition or disability.”

Valentine did not wear a mask at the game because, he alleges, he “is a person with a disability within the meaning of the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] and DCHRA [D.C. Human Rights Act]” and is “unable to wear a mask due to his disability.” But Nationals Park personnel allegedly “demanded” he wear one several times. During each confrontation, he responded that he had a medical condition and, because of it, could not wear a mask. Valentine declined to disclose the nature of his medical condition when asked. The Nationals’ Vice President of Safety and Security eventually told Valentine that, unless he wore a face mask or face shield, he would be ejected. Valentine alleges the Vice President “did not offer any reasonable accommodation.”

Ultimately, Defendants ejected Valentine.

Valentine alleges that afterward, he felt “embarrassment and humiliation” for being “treated like a criminal and kicked out of a baseball game because of his disability.” He tried to resolve his grievances without resorting to a lawsuit. Defendants responded by inviting Valentine to come back to Nationals Park for “a game of [his] choosing” at “any time” during the 2021 regular season and assured him that his experience on May was “a one-time occurrence.” Valentine also alleges that “there is currently no mask mandate in place at Nationals Park.”

Evidently, the Nationals’ proposed resolution proved unsatisfactory and so Valentine, representing himself, sued Defendants for three counts under the ADA and one under the DCHRA.

The court dismissed the ADA suit, because the remedies under the ADA “do not include money damages,” and injunctive or declaratory relief would be unavailable because he “[n]either suffered an ‘ongoing injury’ [n]or faced an ‘immediate threat of injury,” given that “Defendants [have] ended the challenged mask mandate policy.” But it allowed the DCHRA claim to go forward, because Valentine had adequately alleged, in his court papers, “the nature of his alleged disability and why that disability prevents him from wearing face masks” and even “face shield[s].” (The exact details of the alleged disability were filed under seal, and are thus currently available only to the court and the parties, but the court found them to be adequately alleged.)

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