Philadelphia’s gender-neutral bathroom law effective Jan. 20; Attorney says lawsuits will soon be on the way

By Vimbai Chikomo | Jan 6, 2016

PHILADELPHIA - Philadelphia has joined a growing number of cities passing legislation that requires all public single-stall restrooms in city-owned buildings and privately owned establishments to be gender-neutral.

The new legislation was proposed by the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter signed the legislation into law on Nov. 19, making establishments with signage distinguishing “Men” or “Women” single-stall bathrooms subject to fines of up to $2000 if they do not comply with the law by Jan. 20 -- the legislation’s effective date.

In recent years, the country has witnessed a wave of campaigns advocating gender-neutral bathrooms. Other cities that have adopted gender-neutral bathroom laws are Washington, D.C. – which was the first - Austin, Texas, and Seattle.

Attorney Dina M. Mastellone, a partner at Genova Burns, told the Pennsylvania Record that she is unaware of any litigation brought against private companies for failure to adopt gender-neutral bathrooms, “but the laws are new [so] I am sure litigation will soon be on the way,” she said.

“I am aware of a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf a high school student against his school district in Virginia alleging its policy on school restrooms is discriminatory for forcing him to use a gender-neutral restroom,” Mastellone said.

“Also, this week West Hollywood, Calif., will join the growing list of cities requiring all single-stall restrooms in businesses and public places to be gender-neutral."

Some who oppose the law argue that men and women should not be forced to use the same bathroom as it may make some feel uncomfortable.

The current Philadelphia law allows individuals to choose which single-stall bathroom fits their gender identity when both men’s and women’s rooms are available.

Mastellone, who is director of her firm's Human Resource Training & Audit Programs Group and a member of its Employment Law & Litigation Practice Group, shed some light on how establishments found in non-compliance could find themselves paying a lot of money in fines and penalties.

“The fines and penalties for violations of the new Philadelphia law constitutes a Class III offense and is thus subject to the fines set forth in City Code subsection 1-109(3),” she explained.

“Each day the violation continues is a separate offense, not for each use. Thus, businesses could be fined up to $2,000 dollars for each day it is in violation of the new law,” she said.

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