March 28, 2013 at 10:48 AM ET
In a rare move, New York City’s buildings department OK'd an investment bank's request to break the city's potty-parity law and add a men's bathroom and urinals to its trading floors.
Japanese firm Nomura, gearing up to move into Worldwide Plaza in the city’s midtown area, requested permission to build another men’s bathroom for its fourth floor, the main trading floor, which is expected to house about 550 traders. Trading is a male-dominated profession.
The bank also asked to add urinals to existing bathrooms on three higher trading floors.
Nomura spokesman Jonathan Hodgkinson said the request – which was first reported by the New York Post – was approved by the city after being submitted in March 2012. He would not say why the company asked for the exemption or how many women and men work on the trading floors. The Post reported the gender breakdown is 75 percent men, 25 percent women.
In a prepared statement, Hodgkinson wrote: “Nomura believes in providing equal employment opportunities and a sound working environment where our staff can, and do, perform at their best.”
Steve Solomon, a spokesman for George Comfort & Sons, which owns Worldwide Plaza, said the bathrooms have been built. “Life is happy with the tenants,” he said. “They’re going to the bathroom with smiles.”
Nomura, whose North American staff has grown to 2,316 from 900 in 2009, plans to move this summer.
New York City approved its bathroom equality law in 2005, requiring new buildings to install bathroom "fixtures" at a roughly 2-to-1 ratio in favor of women. Advocates say that women need more toilets than men because they take longer and have more bathroom-related needs than men. The law also applies to building remodels such as the one at Worldwide Plaza.
But it includes an exemption for places where the gender imbalance is pronounced, such as health spas, women’s dorms and men’s prisons, where potty parity would be unnecessary.
A spokesman from the city’s buildings department said the department is getting more information on the request but did not release the document on Wednesday.
Bathroom equality advocates criticized Nomura for requesting the exemption – and New York for granting it.
Robert Brubaker, program manager for the American Restroom Association, a nonprofit that advocates for restroom availability, said he's never heard of a business asking for the exemption. Goldman Sachs, another investment bank that moved recently, did not request an exemption to the bathroom equality law, a spokeswoman said.
“Regardless of their past, their best candidates in the future may be women,” Brubaker said.
George Washington University Law School Professor John Banzhaf, the self-described "father of potty parity," said he views adding urinals as a sexist move that sends a negative message to women staffers. “They say, ‘We discriminated in the past so now you have to let us continue.’”
Banzhaf said he may challenge the city's decision to grant Nomura an exemption.
“If these guys can get away with it, there’s no reason why others can’t do the same,” he said.