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Walgreens changes restroom policy after customer says a Hollywood store discriminated against her

Alejandra Reyes-Velarde, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES -- The Walgreens drugstore chain has adopted a companywide policy that allows people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity after a customer said she was discriminated against at a Hollywood store.

Jessie Meehan, who is not transgender, said she asked to use the restroom at a Walgreens on Sunset Boulevard after she spent about $20 on items there on her way to the LGBTQ Pride festival last year; a sales associate told her she could not use the women's restroom because she looked like a man.

A store manager told her it was store policy to restrict access to a bathroom based on a customer's appearance, although when she complained later, another manager said there was no such policy.

"I had to go so I didn't put up much of a fight and used the stall while the men used the urinals next to me," Meehan wrote in an email to Walgreens. "This in itself was very humiliating for me and I felt extremely uncomfortable."

Meehan said she argued with a manager for several minutes and then went to the Pride festival and found an information booth staffed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Meehan, who is active in the LGBTQ community, wrote a letter to Walgreens, suggesting solutions and offering to help train staff. Two months later, when no action was taken, ACLU staff attorney Amanda Goad sent a letter to Walgreens laying out the California law, "which protects every person's right to access restrooms based on their gender identity in workplaces, schools and business establishments."

No litigation was required and no financial settlement was sought, Goad said. After hearing what happened to Meehan, Walgreens simply changed its policy at all 8,100 stores nationwide to comply with California law.

Although Walgreens specified the policy was for transgender individuals, it applies to all individuals. Goad said gender discrimination relating to bathroom usage is not just a transgender issue and that it's relatively common for women who are perceived as gender nonconforming to be questioned or challenged on their way to the women's restroom.

"In an ideal world, the best policies apply to everyone because it's not exclusively a transgender issue and having staff speculate who or who might not be transgender doesn't help anyone," she said.

Meehan said she supported Walgreens as a customer because she knew it was an LGBT-friendly business.

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