Calif. mom claims retailer booted her for complaining about man in girls' restroom

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A California mom who says she was recently kicked out of a sporting goods store after alerting a manager that man had frightened her young daughter in the women's restroom is demanding  answers - and a policy change - from the Washington-based chain.

The woman, who spoke to but asked not to be identified, said she was shopping with her 12-year-old daughter and the girl's younger friend when her daughter told her what had happened moments earlier at an REI sporting goods store during a shopping trip in late August.

"We started to drive to another store and she said to me, ‘Mom, I need to tell you something,’” said the woman. “I asked her what was wrong and she told me ‘A man used the bathroom while we were in there and it scared me.'”

When the mother turned the car around and went back to the store to confront the manager of the Santa Rosa store, she said she was stunned to learn that the man, who she said was not dressed in women's clothes and did not appear outwardly to be transgender, had done nothing wrong in the eyes of the employees and other customers.

“I spoke with the manager and told her what happened," the mother said. "She didn’t skip a beat. She told me that REI does not decide who people are or what they can do.”

The exchange didn't stop there, according to the woman, who said the unidentified store manager lectured her in front of customers before ordering her to leave.

“She told me that if a man came back into the bathroom that they would do nothing,” she said. “That they had no right to tell someone which bathroom to be used. Then she told that if it happens again that I shouldn’t expect anything to be done about it.”

The angry mom contacted The Pacific Justice Institute, a California-based law advocacy group, which has fired off letters to both the Santa Rosa store and company headquarters calling for an apology and a clear policy to protect the safety and privacy of customers using public restrooms. The legal nonprofit cited California's civil rights laws, a building code mandating gender-specific restrooms and the right to privacy set forth in the state constitution.

“It’s one thing for a stranger of the opposite sex go into the ladies bathroom and traumatize young girls,” Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, told "It’s another to have the sanction and blessing of the store manager.

“Any reasonable person would feel shocked and emotional violated with a member of the opposite sex coming into their restroom,” he added. “This man’s intention, whatever they may have been, in no way negates the shock.”

A spokesperson for REI, which stands for Recreational Equipment, Inc. and has 140 stores in 33 states, said officials are are looking into the alleged incident.

"Everything REI does is for our members and customers, so we pay close attention to all customer comments," REI spokesman Mike Ferris said. "Walking into an REI should always be a great, positive experience that helps you explore the outdoors. REI customers can be assured that safety in our stores is paramount. We are looking into this report to get the facts and understand the circumstances fully."

California is grappling with the issue of transgenders and public restrooms, passing a recent, controversial law mandating that public schools allow students to choose the restroom associated with their own gender perception. The city of West Hollywood in 2014 began requiring all businesses to make their single-stall restrooms gender-neutral. Similar laws were passed in Washington, D.C., in 2006 and Philadelphia in 2013, where it was required that new or renovated city-owned buildings must include unisex bathrooms.

The California law has been met with opposition, with a counter bill being proposed for a November 2016 ballot. The Personal Privacy Protection Act aims to mandate that people in government facilities would use a restroom according to their biological sex and not based on which gender they may identify with, The law also aims to protect business owners from potential lawsuits for requiring that employees use bathrooms based on their sex.