You Have a Right to Use the Toilet

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For several years numerous Seattle businesses, including Capitol Hill’s two Kroger Foods chain QFCs in Seattle, have operated in violation of ADA (Americans with Disabilities) laws by refusing and/or not providing customer restroom facilities. Some QFCs have been told by their managers, “if it’s a mother with a baby we’ll let them use our private bathrooms or if they’re well-dressed” they can use our bathrooms. The Seattle stores are echoing the same story that Kroger attorneys ordered the bar stools out of the stores so people can’t eat there, therefore they’re immune to providing restrooms. One Seattle Kroger store tells its customers to go across the street and use the Starbucks toilets.

Recently, Seattle’s downtown Whole Foods is requiring elderly customers who walk in the store who need to use the bathroom before shopping are told they must buy something first. They can only use the bathroom if they have a code that appears on their receipt. At certain times of the day the checkout lines take too long (upwards of 10-20 minutes).

It is a growing trend for a number of Seattle businesses to close their bathroom facilities during this COVID crisis. However, arbitrary public restroom access, as was the case recently with a Starbucks customer[1], inevitably has a negative impact on seniors and is discriminatory against those who have urgent urinary problems. Worse, it is also in violation of UBC building and health codes.  

A business with a place of assembly is bound by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the law, any Seattle business who fails to comply with ADA laws is subject to a law suit. There are number of ADA / non-profit firms in Seattle that are seeking to prosecute such cases, given the fact that these firms are paid by the offending business. In some cases, history shows that they have successfully won treble damages[2]. If you’ve been denied the usage of a restroom and you have received this letter please contact one of the law firms under the search term “ADA law suits”.

In 2005, the Restroom Access Act[3], otherwise known as Ally’s Law, was passed in Illinois, stating that anyone suffering from an eligible medical condition must be allowed to use the employee restroom. Ally’s Law has been adopted by the State of Washington.

In Washington State, even those without an eligible condition or documentation of such a condition also must be allowed to use an employee restroom if:

  1. Three or more employees of the retail establishment are working at the time.
  2. The retail establishment doesn’t normally make a restroom available to the public.
  3. The employee restroom is reasonably safe and isn’t located where providing access would create an obvious health or safety risk to the customer.
  4. Customer access to the employee restroom doesn’t pose a security risk to the business or its employees.

The laws governing businesses do not adequately clarify a business’s duties toward the general public. However, it is clear that patrons must be provided with restroom facilities.

From Chapter 29 of the City of Seattle Building Code:

  • [P]2902.3 Employee and public toilet facilities. Customers and visitors shall be provided with public toilet facilities in structures and tenant spaces intended for public utilization.

If you have been denied use of a bathroom in Seattle, or any place of business over 300 sq ft selling food or drink you will need to call the Director of Public Health, Patty Hayes. If you’re not in Seattle, please contact your local Director of Public Health.

Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health

Seattle & King County

206-263-8409


[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/04/16/black-man-videotapes-starbucks-refusal-let-him-use-restroom/521233002/

[2] ADA non-profit firms: https://www.kiro7.com/news/local/7-seattle-hotels-sued-for-alleged-violations-of-americans-with-disabilities-act/957928755/

[3] https://www.doh.wa.gov/forPublicHealthandHealthcareProviders/HealthcareProfessionsandFacilities/RestroomAccess