BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — A viral Facebook video shows a West Michigan man and woman allegedly being denied service from a store in Big Rapids because they were not wearing a mask.
Trace Cross, who lives 20 minutes outside of Big Rapids and took the video, said the incident happened Wednesday at Menards.
In an interview with FOX17, Cross said he went to purchase an item but did not wear a mask because he has asthma and sleep apnea. According to Cross, a mask stresses his lungs and makes it harder than it already is to breathe.
“I didn’t think I’d have any confrontation or anything,” said Cross. “I came across two, kind of husky, Menards gentlemen out in the front and they were turning people away that didn’t have masks.”
Cross says they then stopped him and told him to put on a mask.
“I said, ‘I have some medical conditions,’” said Cross. “They said it doesn’t matter, that I was still required to wear a mask.”
Cross says he then asked to speak to a store manager and while waiting, Deborah Berry, the woman in the video, tried to enter but was also denied for not wearing a mask.
The video shows Berry sitting in a walker with boots on both of her feet and using an oxygen tank. Cross says it's clear she had medical issues.
“I was kind of angry at first and then later there was [sic] customers walking through and people just staring,” said Cross. “It’s pretty embarrassing. They didn’t give us some way to work with us or even talk to the general manager himself.”
Saturday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-71 which extends a previous order that requires Michiganders to wear a face mask in enclosed public spaces, like grocery and home improvement stores.
However, it includes exceptions for those who have trouble breathing with a mask or other medical conditions.
“It very clearly states that there’s no enforcement provision,” said Katherine Henry, a Hudsonville attorney.
Henry says legally stores cannot do this even under a state of emergency. She explains in addition to the order’s language, there are state and federal statutes the prevent alleged discrimination like this.
“The laws themselves say there is not going to be enforcement,” said Henry. “If law enforcement themselves aren’t going to be enforcing that, there’s going to be no special right by a place of public accommodation, like a Menards store, to go and try to enforce that then deny service.”
Henry and Cross believe Michiganders need to better understand their rights during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cross says he and Berry left the store without incident and are now deciding whether to pursue legal action but he hopes this encourages others to stand up for themselves.
“This is affecting our everyday life and we’re being restricted from being in a public location that other people can go into,” said Cross. “It almost feels like we’re living in a different country.”
Menards has already issued a statement in regards to its mask policy saying, “Due to COVID-19, we are requiring all Guests to wear a mask or face covering while shopping our stores. If you do not have a mask or face covering, we have masks available for purchase.”