Why The Big Stink? Restroom Access Legislation Would Give Relief To Bowel Disease Sufferers

by Rich Vetstein on June 16, 2012

in Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Premises Liability, Public Accommodation

Update (8/3/12): Restroom Access Bill Signed Into Law

Retailers Regrettably Opposed to Law For Restroom Access To Crohn’s, Colitis Sufferers

I heard about this bill on the radio yesterday, and at first I was caught up in the bathroom-humor word play by the DJ. But when I did some more research on Crohn’s Disease and asked my Facebook friends about it, this became serious, as it should.

Millions of Americans (including just retired Pats lineman Matt Light: read great ESPN piece) suffer from debilitating Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases. Victims suffer from frequent and sudden bowel movements, diarrhea and excessive urination. For these folks, a walk around Boston can turn literally soiled when shopkeepers close the door on restroom access. This is an all too common reaction by insensitive shopkeepers, and State Rep. Louis Kafka wants to change that.

Rep. Kafka (D-Stoughton) filed the “Restroom Access” bill, which the House initially approved this week, on behalf of a Sharon girl with an intestinal disorder who found herself in uncomfortable situations on shopping trips with her mom. “When the problem arises, they need to get to a bathroom quickly and, in some cases, there are no public restrooms,” he said. ((Note: this bill is completely different from the controversial “Bathroom Bill” giving transgendered persons restroom access.))

The new legislation, if passed, will require Massachusetts retailers and restaurants to open their private bathrooms to sufferers of inflammatory bowel diseases — and fine them $100 if they don’t. The law would apply only to people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or any other medical condition requiring immediate access to a bathroom, as well as those who wear ostomy bags.

Retailers Opposed, But Why The Big Stink?

The Restroom Bill is unfortunately causing a major stink with retailers. “Why single out only retailers?” Retailers Association of Massachusetts President Jon Hurst told the Boston Herald, “Why not banks, why not office buildings, why not government buildings? I walk into the State House and see a lot of locked bathrooms.” Donna DePrisco, vice president of Boston’s DePrisco Diamond Jewelers, said legislative action just isn’t necessary.

The bill has been tweaked to address retailers’ concerns. It applies only to stores with at least two people working, so cash registers aren’t left unmanned; it absolves retailers from liability; and the restrooms must be in accessible areas that don’t pose health or safety risks to customers.

Well-known Condominium Attorney Stephen M. Marcus, who suffers himself from Crohn’s Disease and created the charitable foundation, IntestinalFortitude.com, supports the bill and says that

“Access to restrooms issue is a serious one for the 1.4 million Americans with Crohn’s and colitis, mainly teenagers. I’m sure retailers will adjust to this law in the same way condominium and apartment owners adjusted to the rights of persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications to their property for persons with disabilities.”

Support the Restroom Access Bill!

My personal opinion is that I strongly support this bill. I think retailers’ concerns are way overblown.  Retailers are worried about lawsuits, but the bill provides immunity from liability for slip & falls and injuries. More importantly, allowing restroom access for people who medically need it is basic human decency and common courtesy.

If retailers were really savvy on public relations, they would turn this into a positive by putting a sign or sticker with “Restroom Open” with the familiar purple Crohn’s Disease ribbon. How’s that for a win-win!

For more information about Crohn’s and Colitis Disease, check out www.ccfa.org. To support the Restroom Access Bill, please email or write to Rep. Louis Kafka and reference House Bill 2366.


Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate and land use attorney. Mr. Vetstein frequently advises Massachusetts property owners concerning their legal obligations under various public accommodations laws.

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