The Law of the Loo
I don’t think about public restrooms much, and I think about the legalities of them even less. However, there have been three specific instances in my life when I have had a reason to assess where the law and the loo intersect.
The first was back in my days working retail. I regularly found myself apologizing to inquiring customers and informing them that the restrooms were for employees only.
On one particular occasion; however, an especially irritable customer informed me that he suffered from an equally irritable medical condition, and that the Americans With Disabilities Act required me to allow him to use the employees-only restroom. I obliged in this instance, but then at my earliest opportunity, I asked my supervisor to provide any applicable company policy so I could respond accordingly in the future. Alas, there was none. Luckily, I had no other customers who claimed a disability requiring such an accommodation in my remaining retail days, but a law has since come into effect that would have made the customer right (except for the source of law) if he had presented proper documentation of his condition and had there been three or more employees present at the time. Incidentally, lest you believe that this story belongs on that reddit, it was not my desire to inconvenience any metabolically distressed customers—I merely did not want to get disciplined for violating the employees-only policy, and there was a grocery store with an actual public restroom right next door.
The second instance was much more recent, when pop culture and politics alike were flush with emotion regarding the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, also known as “HERO,” and the ensuing referendum and litigation.
In case you were under a rock at that time, the controversial issue was related to the ordinance allowing transgendered people to use the public restroom of their choice.
Third and most recently, I had reason to become versed in the requirement, if any, for the public to have access to restrooms at certain city owned or operated facilities.
In short, I found two relevant sources which may impose such a requirement. First, under the Texas Public Information Act, a governmental body subject to the Act must give a requestor “all reasonable comfort and facility for the full exercise of the right granted” by the Act. Because the Act grants a requestor the right to inspect public information at the offices of the governmental body, it stands to reason that access to a restroom would be reasonable comfort and facility for the full exercise of the right to inspect, especially when a voluminous amount of public information is being inspected by the requestor.
The second source is a chapter of the Texas Health and Safety Code governing restroom availability where the public congregates. Under that law, publicly and privately owned facilities where the public congregates, including sports and entertainment arenas, stadiums, community and convention halls, specialty event centers, and amusement facilities, must be equipped with sufficient temporary or permanent restrooms to meet the needs of the public at peak hours. There is even a required minimum ratio of women’s-to-men’s restrooms, with a host of exceptions, of course. It’s 2:1 by the way.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our commercial and business litigation practice can be found here.
Byron L. Brown is an attorney with the Randle Law Office in Houston, Texas, where his practice areas include municipal economic development, municipal franchises and commercial lease litigation. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a B.A. in Criminal Justice, and earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.