28227-clip-art-graphic-of-a-metal-trash-can-cartoon-character-with-open-arms-by-toons4bizLast week I wrote about the ADA problems created by point of sale displays. The same case, Kalani v. Starbucks Corp.,  2015 WL 846651, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 25, 2015), includes a warning about trash cans and restrooms.

In many older buildings, including those built after the ADA standards went into effect, restroom size is a serious problem. Because of plumbing issues restrooms are difficult to expand or move, and the location of the toilet and sink may be fixed for all practical purposes. When local codes permit it, turning two restrooms into a single unisex restroom may help, but in many cases restaurants and others with ADA restroom problems seek to comply by building the smallest permissible restroom.

The diagrams in the ADA Standards that suggest permissible restroom layouts generally show the toilet and sink; the two fixed items whose location determines whether the minimum clear space required by the ADA exists. They leave out something equally important — the trash can. Hence the problem. If you add a trash can to a space that is already as small as it can possibly be the resulting space may not comply with the ADA.

That was the finding of the district court in Kalani v. Starbucks.  The expert witness for Starbucks opined that the the trash can was not a barrier that interfered with the required clear space because it was moveable. The district court rejected this opinion based on its legal conclusion that an obstruction was permissible only if it was intended to be in place for a short time. The trash can was evidently a permanent feature of the restoom. The district court accepted, on the other hand, the opinion of the plaintiff’s expert that based on the size of the trashcan and size of the restroom:

“there is no location within the toiletroom where a free-standing trash receptacle can be located such that the clear floor space and/or maneuvering clearances will not be obstructed within the room.”

2015 WL 846651, at *11. This isn’t a surprising conclusion. If the space is already as small as it can be then anything in it will obstruct the clear floor space.

There are solutions, of course, including small trash receptacles inserted in the wall (just make sure they are not too high). The real take-away from this issue is that you can’t guarantee ADA compliance by simply following the relevant ADA design standards. ADA compliance is an ongoing management and operational issue that requires training. Shameless plug here: I provide webinars with just that kind of training. See the “Education for Business” page of this blog.