News & Politics

Oregon Business Owner Says State Forces Him to Discriminate Against Certain Customers, Levies Huge Fine

AP Photo/Don Ryan, File

The only pharmacy in a sparsely populated Oregon county has come under scrutiny by the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) for failing to enforce mask regulations on customers. The owners are now speaking out, saying that the State of Oregon is requiring them to discriminate against the large number of customers they serve who also have disabilities. In addition, OSHA has slapped them with $10,000 in fines.

Pharmacist Caleb Howard and his brother represent the fourth generation in his family to operate Howard Drugs in Lakeview, the only pharmacy in Lake County in southern Oregon. In an interview with PJ Media, Howard says that OSHA admits that they require his pharmacy to discriminate against customers who have medical conditions making it impossible to wear masks, in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“They brought on the mask mandate which had the corresponding guidelines,” Howard said. “We went through the guidelines by the letter as best we could. There’s conflicting information within the guidelines depending on where you look. It essentially requires masks for everybody with the caveat, if there’s a medical condition.”

In the interview, Howard read the language of the rule in the letter he received from the State of Oregon: “Individuals who have a medical condition that may make it hard to breathe or a disability that prevents the individual from wearing a mask, face shield, or face covering can request an accommodation in the business, or indoor-outdoor space operator, to enable full and equal access to services, transportation, or facilities open to the public.”

Despite the seemingly clear language of the order, Oregon OSHA responded to several reports from members of the public that Howard Drugs didn’t properly enforce the mask mandate. Howard says OSHA received nine complaints from the public, prompting an inspection three weeks ago. During the inspection, they attempted to gain clarification on the services provided and how they could better comply.

OSHA’s response? An email, late that Saturday evening after business hours, saying they found Howard Drugs in violation.

Howard says he returned the email, asking how they misconstrued the clear language of the mask order. Instead of further dialog, he says OSHA instead gave them a “red tag” designation.

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“What is the red tag? We have no idea. You can’t even look it up,” Howard said. “So our our understanding of a red tag is that it represents a notice to the public and to employees that the premise is unsafe. Examples are like a gas leak, or some kind of a toxic spillage of some kind. These kinds of things that are imminent threats to the public.”

Oregon OSHA then said the “red tag” needs to be resolved before the business can resume normal operations.

In seeking to gain understanding of the “red tag” designation and how to resolve it, Howard sent multiple emails to Oregon OSHA. Their response: “In an email, OSHA admitted they are asking us to discriminate against those who cannot wear masks. Oregon OSHA confirmed explicitly as recently as Tuesday (8/4) with the Governor’s Office that, if no accommodation is possible that allows the person with a disability or medical exemption to be served without violating the facial covering requirement, then the individual cannot be served.”

So there you have it. Oregon’s Governor, Kate Brown (D-Portland), has ordered businesses to discriminate against people with disabilities, in direct violation of federal law.

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Howard illustrated just how dire the situation is for their elderly clientele in Lake County, saying that the next closest drug store is in Klamath Falls, a 100-mile drive in each direction.

Lake County, at the time of the interview, had fewer than 50 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed, and zero hospitalizations or deaths from the virus.

Importantly, he notes, they normally don’t even deal with OSHA. They are regulated by the Oregon Pharmacy Board. OSHA has failed to give his store any measure of due process, or presumption of innocence. They have moved directly to the penalty phase, and punished a pharmacy that, by all accounts, has done its best to follow all relevant regulations.

This all comes as the Oregon Health Authority tells businesses that they’re expected to be the enforcers of Gov. Brown’s mask mandates, and that they will answer to OSHA if they don’t adopt this aggressive stance. “There are any number of reasons somebody might not want to wear a mask,” Howard said. “There’s political reasons, which is first amendment type stuff. There’s religious reasons, there’s cultural reasons and we don’t have the training the time or the resources to just start kicking people out over whatever reasons. That’s just appalling. That’s grotesque in our opinion and we serve people of faith that disagree with us. We want to serve those people of faith who disagree with us to the full extent of what it means to be an American.”

It gets worse. The saga continued to a hearing last Friday. Howard says they have sought remedies for how to get back into compliance with the order, without discriminating against their customers with disabilities.

Instead, Oregon OSHA dropped the hammer. “We were given around $10,000 in fines,” Howard said. “We are now trying to find out how to get the “red tag” removed but OSHA is not being clear on how to do that. The main issue, that of not being forced to treat the unmasked differently and at a lower standard to the masked, has not been resolved.”

Once again, Oregon’s draconian lockdown orders and mask orders appear more motivated by control and compliance than actual science, or the rule of law.

A customer of the pharmacy has set up a GoFundMe account to help them with their legal fees and fines.

You can hear the entire interview with Caleb Howard at this link.

Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, “Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy,” available at Jeff hosts a podcast at You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff, and on Parler at @RealJeffReynolds.

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