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posted Friday, February 19, 2021 - Volume 40 Issue 08
You Have a Right To Use the Toilet
Section One
ALL STORIES
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You Have a Right To Use the Toilet

To the Editor:

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 [as when] Kroger attorneys ordered the bar stools out of the stores so people can't eat there, therefore they're immune to providing restrooms. The Pike Street (Capitol Hill, Seattle) Kroger store, tells its customers to go across the street and use the Starbucks toilets. The Republican and Broadway store sends everybody to the public library at the rear entrance of the store. QFC/Kroger has no problem burdening Starbucks and the Public Library with their customers. It is an undue burden on other businesses caused by QFC/Kroger's neglect and arbitrary decision making.

Under RCW 7.48 clearly QFC/Kroger is causing a public nuisance. I, and others, have pleaded with QFC/Kroger to open the bathrooms and have explained the laws that they intentionally neglect. They are now claiming that the King County Health Department has allowed them to close the bathrooms because they took the stools away from the coffee stands.

Recently, Seattle's downtown Whole Foods is [telling] elderly customers who walk in the store who need to use the bathroom before shopping [that] 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 [https://bit.ly/3amgi1E], 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 that fails to comply with ADA laws is subject to a lawsuit. There are number of ADA/nonprofit 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 [https://bit.ly/37nqRPY]. 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 lawsuits."

In 2005, the Restroom Access Act [https://bit.ly/2OBbrRG], 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 square feet 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

If you cannot find an attorney that will not take your complaint for free, give us a call and we will direct you.

G. Martin Freeman
Presiding Chaplain, ULCM
george@georgefreeman.com

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