Nike Inc. has been hit with a proposed class action over its COVID-19 face mask mandate.
In the San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday, plaintiff Cali Bunn — who has severe-to-profound hearing loss — filed suit against the sportswear giant, alleging that its policy requiring employees to wear opaque Nike-branded face masks discriminates against deaf people or hard-of-hearing individuals who rely on lipreading.
According to the complaint, which is seeking class action status, the Beaverton, Ore.-based brand has implemented a mandatory mask-wearing policy, which necessitates that its store associates wear Nike-supplied cloth coverings bearing the Swoosh logo when interacting with coworkers and customers. These opaque masks, Bunn said, “create unique communications problems for deaf and hard-of-hearing people because they muffle speech and block visualization of the mouth area and facial expressions.”
The complaint claimed violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the California Unruh Act and the California Disabled Persons Act, which state that retail establishments must make “reasonable modifications” to existing policies to accommodate people with disabilities and ensure they aren’t “excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently” than those without disabilities.
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In addition, the National Association of the Deaf has advised that people who are deaf or hard of hearing use clear plastic shields that cover the forehead, extend below the chin and wrap around the sides of the face amid the coronavirus pandemic. This type of face mask, the organization said, “allows visibility of facial expressions and lip movements for speech perception.”
In this case, Bunn suggested that Nike use face masks with clear plastic inserts over the mouth to allow lipreading or employ American Sign Language interpreters or install closed-captioning devices in stores. She is seeking injunctive relief for a class of people in California who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as statutory damages for current or future customers at Nike outposts in the state.
A representative for Nike did not immediately respond to a request for comment.