Father Sues Over Store’s Dressing Room Policy : Litigation: He alleges sexual discrimination after being told he could not dress his daughter, 3, in the girls fitting room. A spokeswoman says Mervyn’s has no official stand on the matter.


Three-year-old Katie Bernal was about to try on what her father describes as a winter ensemble--long pants, a cute top and snuggly sweater--when the door to the girls fitting room suddenly swung open.

“You must get out,” Raymond Bernal says the clerk at the Mervyn’s department store in Montebello ordered. “No fathers are allowed in here.”

Katie began to cry and, her father says, asked, “Why are they kicking me out, Daddy?” Bernal was at a loss to explain, he says, especially after the clerk allowed him to dress Katie in one of the boys fitting rooms, where, he noticed, a mother was helping her son with his clothes in a neighboring cubicle.

“How can I explain sexual discrimination to my child?” Bernal asked Thursday after filing a lawsuit against Mervyn’s asking that fathers be allowed in girls fitting rooms. “I want Mervyn’s to know that I am proud of being a father and not ashamed.”


Telephone calls to the Montebello store were referred to Mervyn’s corporate offices in Hayward, Calif., where a company spokeswoman said she was not authorized to comment because of the litigation. Spokeswoman Kathy Blackburn said, however, that the 279-store company does not have an official policy on who is allowed in fitting rooms. “We do everything we can to serve our customers,” Blackburn said.

Bernal disputes the claim, saying he was told by managers at the Montebello store that they were following corporate policy allowing mothers in boys fitting rooms but banning fathers from girls fitting rooms. He said the company never offered an explanation for the policy.

Bernal, 30, of South Gate, made his pronouncements during a news conference in the Wilshire Boulevard office of his attorney, Gloria Allred. Allred said Bernal was acting on behalf of the many young fathers “who do not want to be just weekend Disneyland dads, but who instead commit themselves to taking real responsibility in the lives of their children.”

How dressing Katie in the girls fitting room rather than the boys fitting room establishes such a standard was not clearly explained. Bernal said he didn’t mind using the boys fitting room, and despite the dispute with the clerk, spent about $120 on clothing for Katie that day last November.

But Bernal said he filed the lawsuit as a matter of principle. A single parent with joint custody of Katie (he has been separated from his wife for two years), Bernal said he resented being treated differently than mothers, who he said would never raise the watchful eye of a department store clerk.

“I am one of those fathers that knows what size socks my daughter wears, what dress size she is and how to do her hair,” said Bernal, who works for UPS Airlines at Ontario Airport.


Asked if the restriction might be justified if other customers felt uncomfortable with a man in the girls fitting rooms, Allred said such fears would not be enough to deny Bernal’s rights as a father, particularly because each fitting room at Mervyn’s has a door that can be closed.

“The argument (of privacy) falls where there are individual dressing rooms,” Allred said. “There may be an underlying assumption that somehow fathers may be there to molest little girls. That is a very pernicious and unwarranted assumption.”

Allred, who is host of a radio talk show and is also a television commentator, has gained widespread attention for building public spectacles around such apparent double standards. As in cases past, she attracted a slew of reporters and camera operators to the news conference, which featured Bernal holding his beaming daughter. The young father received two offers to appear on radio and television talk shows.

When it came time for her part, however, the ponytailed Katie proved less than a star witness. She pulled on her father’s ear, played with a stuffed animal and ultimately refused to tell her side of the story, despite coaching by Allred and leading questions from a baby-talking television cameraman.

“How did you feel when they kicked you out, were you happy or sad?” Allred asked Katie as the cameras rolled.

“No,” Katie said.

“Sad?” asked Allred.


“Happy?” Allred continued.


Allred quickly explained to reporters that the girl was not speaking under oath.