5th Circuit Sides with Alejandro Hernandez in Food Bank Case

El Paso People Fighting Hunger Food Banks

A federal appeals court has reinstated the case of a Texas man who fired a food bank for disability-based discrimination after refusing to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

El Pasoans Fighting Hunger (“EPFH”) is a food bank in El Paso, Texas that distributes food to those in need at walk-up locations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, EPFH has required all food recipients to wear a face covering when receiving food.

Alejandro Hernandez On Jan. 10, 2021, he was “physically pushed out of the building” and “disguised,” court documents allege.[ed] In the form of “calling names” when a male EPFH staff member refused to wear a mask for “medical reasons”.Hernandez said in court documents that he could not wear a face mask because of a deviated nasal septum, severe PTSD, and “a chronic anxiety and panic trigger that suddenly interfered with breathing.” is “publicly [sic] Labeled by food banks and their employees for humiliating, demeaning and degrading language and treatment.

Hernandez then sued EPFH and two of its employees in federal court for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

United States Justice of the Peace Robert Castaneda On April 2, 2021, Hernandez recommended dismissal of Hernandez’s lawsuit for failure to admit facts showing discrimination based on disability.

Castaneda writes, “While the plaintiff alleges that he was denied service by the defendant, this was not based on his disability.” Claiming they were denied service due to policy. [are required] Customers who cannot wear face coverings for medical reasons are no exception. The district court adopted Castaneda’s recommendation and dismissed the action.

But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned most of Castaneda’s ruling on Friday and reinstated Hernandez’s case. His seven-page order, which is not signed, gives Mr. Hernandez, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, the opportunity to correct the errors in his complaint and continue the lawsuit against the food bank.

The panel consisted of US circuit judges Katharina Haynes, George W. Bush appointee; Karl Stewart, Specification Clinton Appointee; Senior Circuit Judge Carolyn Dineen King, Jimmy Carter Appointee. The opinion was not signed, but it was noted that Judge Haynes only concurred with the judgment.

In making its decision, the panel noted that the district court improperly relied on the EPFH website to determine whether the food bank allowed accommodation (such as home delivery) to meet Hernandez’s needs. I started by pointing out Although the district court acknowledged that the alternative was posted on its website, the Fifth Circuit judge said, “However, the difficulty was finding the information the district court cited on his EPFH website. I can’t do it,” he said.

The panel concurred with the lower court’s opinion that Hernandez’s complaint failed to adequately assert ADA relief, but instead of upholding dismissal of the action for those reasons, the appeals panel asked plaintiffs to gave some guidance on how to amend the petition.

The ruling states: But this connection in the logical chain is not supported by factual claims. ”

The panel also challenged the lower court’s finding that Hernandez’s complaint was “frivolous.” The court noted that EPFH “makes no exceptions to its masking his policy, effectively preventing Hernandez from accessing its services,” and that when Hernandez walked in to pick up the food, ” It points to the claim of experience that it “rebounded.”

“It cannot be inferred that any of these facts (or any other facts asserted in the complaint) are ‘fantasy,’ ‘fantastic,’ or delusional; Nor can it be construed as ‘reasonable’ or ‘completely implausible,'” the court said. He instructed the district court to give Hernandez an opportunity to amend his original filing.

In a footnote, the Panel also noted that in the period since Hernandez’s filing in March 2021, masking requirements have been relaxed in many places. Therefore, the district court must first determine whether Hernandez’s attempt to block a policy that is no longer in force is unfounded.

Both parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

[screengrab via El Pasoans Fighting Hunger]

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