A recently filed class-action lawsuit claims that Smart & Final, LLC is discriminating against disabled people in its implementation of COVID-19 face mask requirements.

The suit alleges that Smart & Final does not offer curbside pickup, does not have employees shop for disabled people, or provide their employees with proper training to help those with disabilities.

According to Arroyo Grande attorney Dennis Balsamo, who filed the lawsuit, this all began when his disabled wife tried shopping at a store in San Luis Obispo County and was refused service in June because she wouldn’t wear a mask. He sued on her behalf.

Afterward, Balsamo says, he received so many phone calls from other Californians with similar allegations, that he filed the class-action suit on Aug. 11.

Smart and Final, LLC did not respond to a GV Wire℠ request for comment.

June Incident: In the Checkout Line

“Sandra Balsamo had no other choice but to leave and felt embarrassed by the incident that took place in front of several other shoppers.” — lawsuit filed against Smart & Final

According to the lawsuit, as Sandra Balsamo entered the Smart and Final in Arroyo Grande on June 9, a male employee asked her to put on a mask. She explained that a health condition prevents her from wearing one, and the employee allowed her in.

After completing her shopping, she was standing in line to check out when an assistant manager asked her to wear a mask. Balsamo said that she again explained her medical condition, but the assistant manager accused her of lying, saying she didn’t have a health issue, the lawsuit states.

Ultimately, the assistant manager locked the cash register, forcing Balsamo to leave without her groceries and feeling embarrassed by the incident, which took place in front of several other shoppers, the lawsuit alleges.

“My wife is a disabled person and was discriminated against and called a liar about her disability. I plan to join her suit to the class-action suit,” Dennis Balsamo said via email.

Read the Lawsuit

Sandra Balsamo Lawsuit (Text)

August Incident: In Front of Many Other Shoppers

Tiffany Herd “explained she uses a breath sniffing service dog to monitor her blood sugar levels and a mask would block the dog’s ability to monitor her.”  — class-action lawsuit filed against Smart & Final 

According to court documents, on Aug. 8, Tiffany Herd and her service dog tried to shop at the Smart and Final in Arroyo Grande.

After Herd entered the store, the manager demanded that she wear a mask. Herd answered that she was unable to wear a mask due to severe diabetic issues. She also explained she uses a breath sniffing service dog to monitor her blood sugar levels and a mask would block the dog’s ability to monitor her. The suit says the manager escorted her out, saying “I don’t care. You must wear a mask to shop here.”

Herd alleges that the store manager embarrassed her outside of the store when she insisted that she be allowed to shop.

“Again (he) stated loudly to Plaintiff (Herd) in front of the many other shoppers that he didn’t care about her health issues at all,” the court document states.

Herd says the manager’s actions embarrassed and humiliated her in front of a large group of other shoppers.

“Every one of them were humiliated and embarrassed by the actions of the defendants. Imagine how hard life is as a disabled person on a daily basis then add to that you cannot buy food,” Balsamo said.

The attorney said he hasn’t been contacted by potential victims in Fresno, but he has heard from a person in Bakersfield.

Read the Lawsuit

Class Action Discrimination Complaint Against Smart and Final (Text)

Smart & Final Social Distancing & Safety Precautions

According to the Smart & Final website, the chain requires face coverings for all customers. Smart & Final associates are also provided face coverings and are required to wear them.

The stores conducting cleanings at the top of every hour, social distancing decals are on the floor to encourage social distancing, and customers are asked to limit their party to no more than two individuals at a time, Smart & Final says.

Smart & Final operates more than 250 grocery and foodservice stores in California, Arizona, and Nevada. It has additional stores in northern Mexico operated through a joint venture.


11 Responses

  1. Dennis Balsamo

    To be clear, while Smart & Final, LLC may claim it offers accommodations to disabled people in EACH AND EVERY CASE no such accommodations were offered to the discriminated against disabled individuals. Smart & Final, LLC must train their employees as to protocols involving disabled people. “We Don’t Care” is not an acceptable offer. Please do read the Complaint and the underlying law.

    • MGomez

      The underlying law does not apply because your wife is not disabled. Her alleged inability to wear a mask only became a problem when businesses complied with government-imposed emergency orders which included the requirement to wear face masks in public places.

      Sandra wants curbside grocery pickup or a personal shopper…..all at no additional charge of course. What’s next? Sandra wants a haircut, so Supercuts has to place a chair in the parking lot so she can get her hair dyed blonde again? Sandra wants to fly to Chicago, so United Airlines has to fly a plane just for her? Sandra wants to travel across town, so Arroyo Grande has to provide a bus just for Sandra? Maybe Disneyland needs to have “Sandra Balsamo Day” so she can be the only customer inside the park and can revisit Pirates of the Caribbean.

      Your wife sounds fragile and overly-entitled. Sandra should stay home, Dennis. You go buy the groceries. Then go back to your office and amend that complaint. Your request for class-action status is dead on arrival.

      • Bob Jamiz

        By you self demonstrative ignorance you’ve successfully proven to be a Californian…….

  2. MGomez

    How simple would it be for big-shot attorney Balsamo to shop for his wife? You know, take responsibility for yourself and your situation.

    • Alex

      how simple would it be for ignorant people like you to order online and get groceries home if you are paranoid and afraid to be outside without mask, instead of trying have everyone wear masks.

  3. Lola

    If the dog is really trained, it can smell the change even with a mask. It’s a money grab that makes real teams look bad.

    • Tiffany

      Yes, she can smell throu however instead of getting someones attention for help she gets people attention for being mean and biting at my face. Which then gets other things brought into it and its a fight with even the proper stuff she has.
      All i would love to see is employees trained properly instead of basically telling me that whatever my issues are and even with my service animal i dont matter. It could have been handled different and even when i turned to give my card to someone so they could help stepping in front of me and making a mean comment while i am trying to make sure i can still get what is needed

      • Lydia Peralta

        We shop at the store in question regularly, we even know the manager by his first name, “Matt”. Matt is the most kindest person one could ever meet, I find it impossible he handled it the way you state!! I pray they are witness’s and confident there are! “M. Gomez” is so correct about this situation! You likely know the balsamo’s and after further research he’s not a “hot-shot” by any means… Shame on your attempt to scam Smart & Final under the auspice of a pandemic!! God is watching you….

  4. Elaine Jordan

    This might to be interesting,
    Hopefully the company being sued will get an expert in dogs to prove a dog can still smell a scent even through a couple layers of cloth.
    Granted, the assistant manager appears to have handled this VERY inappropriate ly, but this could be handled by additional training
    A complaint could have been filed with the DOJ, rather than a lawsuit


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