A mask-less Trader Joe's customer in Texas had a meltdown after being denied entry - and it reveals how states' new rules endanger workers

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A mask-less Trader Joe's customer in Texas had a meltdown after being denied entry - and it reveals how states' new rules endanger workers
Shoppers wear face masks while practicing social distancing at Trader Joe's in Emeryville, California, in April.Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
  • A Trader Joe's shopper in Texas forced his way into the store without a mask.
  • Texas lifted its mask mandate, but stores can impose their own policies.
  • Workers have already seen a backlash as some customers refuse to accept store policies on masks.

A Trader Joe's customer accused the grocer of violating Texas state law, after employees denied the man entry without a mask.

The situation highlights how the state's new rules have put many frontline workers in a vulnerable position, as they are forced to impose corporate rules without the support of the government.

Last week, Texas became the largest state to lift its mask mandate. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the mandate would no longer be in place as of March 10. Abbott said he plans to open the state 100%. His decision comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against reopening states too soon.

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In Texas, there have been more than 2.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, with more than 45,000 deaths, data from John Hopkins University showed.

In a video of the Trader Joe's incident posted on Instagram, the mask-less shopper pushed past greeters at the door who offered to give him a disposable mask and refused to let him enter without a face covering.

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The man said he was disappointed in the grocer's decision to maintain a mask requirement in the store and said he should be allowed entry without a mask due to an undisclosed disability. The store's employees - located near McKinney, Texas - told the man they would allow him in without a mask if he put masks on his two children, but then he pushed past the workers.

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A post shared by Karen (@crazykarens2)

"I don't get this anywhere I go in Texas," the man said in the video. "You're violating the law. You're harassing me and discriminating against me because of my disability … I have a civil right to shop in places that are open to the public."

Workers then confronted the man as he made his way through the store with his kids, speaking out against Trader Joe's.

The Instagram post, which dubbed the man a "male Karen," received primarily negative comments.

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"Businesses have a right to enforce a mask policy, even without the government," user @stefanootchka wrote. "Haven't these people ever heard of nightclubs that require you to wear belts, ties and blazers? Have they ever heard of no shirt, no shoes, no service?"

Customers have revolted against mask mandates in stores and restaurants across the state

After Texas and other states loosened restrictions, customers have become increasingly resistant to wearing masks, signaling that mask enforcement may get more difficult for retail employees.

Workers in Texas at the Mexican restaurant, Picos, said diners threatened to report them to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for requiring people at the diner to wear masks.

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"It was just horrific," co-owner Monica Richards told The Washington Post. "People don't understand unless you're in our business what it felt like, how hard it was to go through everything we went through during COVID. For people to be negative toward us for trying to remain safe, so that this doesn't continue to happen, just makes zero sense to us."

The situation hearkens back to the beginning of the pandemic when people protested and boycotted stores for requiring masks and social distancing.

In some places, a lack of official mask policies put employees in a difficult position, or employees were not allowed to ask customers to wear a mask.

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Mask-wearing has also become political. Some encounters with customers even turned violent, with workers shot or assaulted for asking customers to wear masks.

Some stores hired private security companies to help with mask enforcement, while others have told employees that they cannot enforce the mask restrictions for their own safety.

Trader Joe's has faced backlash throughout the pandemic when it comes to enforcing the mask mandate

In July, Trader Joe's employees were attacked in Manhattan by two customers who refused to wear masks.

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Just two months ago, a California Trader Joe's was forced to close early due to anti-masks protests.

In February, customers threatened to boycott Trader Joe's after an employee was fired for asking the CEO to implement more COVID-19 protections for workers' safety.

The employee, Ben Bonnema, was rehired within the month, after his letter to the CEO went viral on Twitter.

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"We put our lives on the line everyday by showing up to work," Bonnema wrote. "Please, show up for us by adopting these policies."

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