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La Crosse Poll Worker Sues Evers, City Clerk Over Mask Mandate

Lawsuit Claims Poll Worker Improperly Dismissed For Refusing To Wear Mask

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A gavel in a courtroom.
Joe Gratz (CC0 1.0)

A former poll worker in La Crosse is suing Gov. Tony Evers and a local election official over the statewide mask mandate.

The complaint, filed last week, claims Nicholas Newman was dismissed from his job as a poll worker for the August primary election because he would not wear a mask.

Bernardo Cueto, one of Newman’s attorneys, said Newman has asthma, making it difficult for him to wear a mask for a long period of time.

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“The actual mask mandate exempts people who have problems with breathing, issues like asthma,” Cueto said. “(Newman) went to go to the poll place and didn’t have a mask, and they kicked him out. Even when he explained that he is actually exempt from the order, they still insisted on kicking him out.”

The lawsuit claims La Crosse City Clerk Teri Lehrke discharged Newman of his duties as a poll worker after he notified her that he was exempt from the emergency order requiring face masks. The complaint also claims Lehrke refused a request for alternative personal protective equipment and denied Newman’s request to remain at the polling place as an election observer.

Lehrke declined a request for comment.

The lawsuit also claims Evers acted unlawfully when creating multiple emergency orders related to the coronavirus pandemic, an argument being made by a conservative group in another lawsuit filed in August.

Cueto said this complaint also applies to the new emergency order issued by Evers this week in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases across the state.

“Gov. Evers is not a dictator. The Legislature was elected by the people to create the laws in this state, and Gov. Evers needs to work with the Legislature if he wants to extend the emergency,” Cueto said. “People like Mr. Newman are suffering the negative consequences from his mask mandate, and the courts should invalidate it.”

The governor’s office did not return a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the governor told the La Crosse Tribune that “We know that masks can save lives, and Gov. Evers continues to ask everyone to do their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, staying safer at home, and limiting their social circles as much as possible.”

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