Retailer Must Face Claims for Denying Bathroom Access

CHICAGO (CN) – An Illinois woman who suffers from Crohn’s disease can sue the retail store Anthropologie for refusing her access to its employee restroom, causing her to defecate on herself in front of other shoppers, a state appeals court ruled.

Alana Pilotto suffers from Crohn’s disease, a severe type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes pain, diarrhea and weight loss. People who suffer from the disease often need to use the restroom frequently and have trouble controlling their bowel movements.

Pilotto’s diagnosis qualifies her under the Illinois Restroom Access Act to be granted access to a business’s employee restroom when there is no customer restroom available.

The state does not issue an official card under the Act, but several organizations issue cards explaining that the holder has a medical condition that requires immediate access to a bathroom.

In March 2014, Pilotto showed her card to an employee at an Anthropologie clothing store in Oak Brook, Ill., but she was refused access to its employee restroom and told to go to the mall across the street to use the bathroom.

On her way, Pilotto lost control of her bowels and defecated in the presence of customers at the shopping mall.

She claims she was so embarrassed by this incident that she “did not leave her house for days afterwards, and still experiences fear of not having access to a restroom in public places.”

The trial court granted Anthropologie’s motion to dismiss Pilotto’s lawsuit, but the Illinois Appellate Court’s First District ruled Friday that the Restroom Access Act gives affected persons an implied private right of action against a business that denies them bathroom access.

“Plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient to constitute extreme and outrageous conduct, especially given plaintiff’s allegations that she explained her particular ‘physical condition or peculiarity’ to defendant’s employee,” Justice Robert Gordon wrote for a three-judge panel. “Plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently alleges that defendant’s employee knew the likely results of the denial, namely, public defecation, and nevertheless refused access.”

In express terms, the Act only sets forth the procedure for imposing a $100 fine for a petty violation of the law.

But “defendant, a nationwide retail store, certainly has the financial capability to simply refuse to comply with the Act each time it is approached by a customer with an irritable bowel condition, since the maximum penalty that can be assessed for each violation is $100,” Gordon said.

He said the small fine would do nothing to make Pilotto feel comfortable visiting the store again, since she might again be denied access to the employee restroom if she needed it, and would be unlikely to report such an embarrassing incident to the police.

“It would make no sense for the statute to be read in such a way that a retailer can be held civilly liable for its actions when complying with the Act, but could not be held civilly liable for not complying with the Act at all,” Gordon said. (Emphasis in original.)