New Seattle Rules for Single Occupancy Restrooms– Posted by
In May 2016, the Obama Administration, by way of the Departments of Education and Justice, provided schools nationwide with guidelines regarding bathroom use by transgender students. These guidelines are a piece of a larger legal dialogue regarding the rights of transgender individuals in the United States. We recently blogged about Washington State laws which protect the rights of transgender persons (see June 8, 2016 blog). Many Seattle businesses may not know that in addition to existing state laws, the City of Seattle has also adopted legal guidelines regarding the use of public bathrooms in Seattle, and has implemented a unique enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with city laws. Seattle’s Public All-Gender Restroom Ordinance (SMC 14.07), which applies only to single stall restrooms, allows use of single occupant restrooms by any person, regardless of sex or gender identity, and prevents those restrooms from being restricted to a specific sex or gender identity. Seattle’s Public Accommodations Ordinance (SMC 14.06) also clarifies the rights of individuals to use gender-specific facilities that are consistent with their gender identity.
With regard to single occupant restrooms, Seattle Municipal Code 14.07.020 provides:
- Single-occupant restrooms shall not be restricted to a specific sex or gender identity and shall use appropriate signage to indicate such facilities are designated for use by any person, regardless of sex or gender identity.
A single-occupant restroom is: “any toileting facility that is designed for use by one person at a time.” This requirement applies to:
- any place, licensed or unlicensed, where the public gathers, congregates, or assembles for amusement, recreation or public purposes, or any place, store, or other establishment that supplies goods or services with or without charge to the general public.
This includes all restaurants, bars, theaters, and sports stadiums. The ordinance also specifically lists “barber shops and beauty shops” as places of public accommodation. Based on the wide ranging definition of public accommodation, if you operate a business that provides restrooms to your customers, the City of Seattle considers this ordinance applicable to your business.
In addition to requiring that all single stall restrooms be gender neutral, the Seattle Code requires business owners to “use appropriate signage to indicate such facilities are designated for use by any person regardless of sex or gender identity.” SMC 14.07.020(A). What exactly does this mean? The Seattle Office for Civil Rights has provided examples of appropriate verbiage such as “all-gender restroom”, “gender neutral restroom,” “unisex restroom,” “toilet,” and “WC/Water Closet.” The City has also provided some specific examples of appropriate signage:
Failure to follow these requirements can result in an investigation by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, and possible fines if the violation remains ongoing.
The City of Seattle is also embracing technology in its effort to enforce these new regulations by enlisting the Twittersphere’s help to identify those businesses violating the ordinance. The City of Seattle has created a hashtag, “#AllGenderRestroomSEA,” and anyone can tweet that hashtag with a photo of the offending signage and name and location of the business to report violations of the ordinance.