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Vancouver anti-masker loses to Lululemon at human rights tribunal

The case was dismissed because she "thwarted" the reasonable accommodations offered
A woman who wanted to shop inside a Lululemon store in Nov. 20 without wearing a face mask as mandated took her complaint against the athleisure retailer to the B.C. human rights tribunal.

A Vancouver woman has had her case against yoga pants retailer Lululemon dismissed by a human rights tribunal after she tried to use a note from a naturopathic doctor to excuse her from wearing a mask in a store.

The case dates back to November 10, 2020 when Yvonne Coelho and a friend went to a Lululemon store without a face mask on, according to the tribunal's decision. Lululemon had a rule that everyone in their stores had to wear a mask and staff told Coelho she couldn't be there without a mask.

"Essentially, Ms. Coelho is seeking her perfect accommodation – to shop freely in‐person at Lululemon’s stores without having to wear a mask, at a time when the Province had declared a State of Emergency over a respiratory virus about which little was yet known," states the tribunal chair Emily Ohler in her decision.

Coelho's reason for not wearing a mask was an apparent medical exemption. She cited a note from her naturopathic doctor claiming masks cause her increased stress and risk of panic attack.

"Her naturopathic doctor issued her a medical note saying she has an 'exemption' from wearing a mask," states the decision.

A video of the incident was recorded by Coelho's companion and submitted as evidence. The tribunal decision included a play-by-play of the video.

The Manager said that she needed to put one on to shop, and Ms. Coelho’s companion said, "your store isn’t accepting exemptions?"

The Manager said that Ms. Coelho would have to put a mask on, and Ms. Coelho said, “no. I don’t, I don’t wear a mask. But I can’t be refused entry or service.”

When the Manager continued to insist, Ms. Coelho asked for the basis on which she was being asked to leave, noting “it’s your store policy, it’s not the law.”

When asked to either put on a mask or leave, Ms. Coelho said, “Um, so, I don’t wanna leave.”

When offered the opportunity to shop online or outside, Ms. Coelho said, “no, because that’s discriminatory. It’s against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

She continued to challenge the Manager, at one point saying, “So, I’ll take it further. Like, if you want to call somebody to remove me, I’m okay with that.”

She eventually left the store.

In the decision, a few weaknesses in Coelho's submissions were noted, but, generally, it was focused on one aspect.

Lululemon has online shopping with a shipping or pick-up option. Also, they can have an employee help someone who remains outside the store, states the tribunal. Coelho told the tribunal she prefers to shop in-store but doesn't deny that the online or outside options exist.

Her claim that she can't wear a mask doesn't mean she can disregard the mask policy and have "unfettered access" to the store. It means Lululemon has to make accommodations to allow her to shop in some manner.

"Lululemon was not obligated to provide a perfect accommodation, but a reasonable one," states the decision.

Ohler determined that reasonable options existed, even if it wasn't the perfect shopping experience Coelho demanded, the decision explains.

"Ms. Coelho chose to simply leave the Store rather than explore the accommodation options that Lululemon immediately put forward," states the decision. "This alone would support a finding that Ms. Coelho herself thwarted the accommodation process in all the circumstances."

Coelho didn't pursue these options, and that's the focus of the tribunal's dismissal of the case; Lululemon persuaded Ohler that the case wouldn't succeed at a full hearing didn't warrant the expense.