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Mom of teen with autism took him to women’s bathroom. Her lawsuit says movie theater employees called the police

"He was humiliated and traumatized."
/ Source: TODAY

A New Jersey mother is suing a local Cinemark movie theater, saying her son who has a disability was harassed and thrown out of the cinema for using the women's restroom with her.

"The message sent to my son was that he did something horribly wrong by using the bathroom," Christine Gallinaro tells "He was humiliated and traumatized."

On June 16, 2023, Gallinaro took her 15-year-old son (whose name agreed to omit for privacy reasons) to see an evening showing of the Pixar film "Elemental" at his favorite theater, Cinemark Hazlet 12.

Gallinaro's son has autism and a speech disorder. His father typically accompanies him into public men's rooms, however when he's not present — and if there is no family restroom available — Gallinaro usually escorts him into the women's room.

"My son can, to a certain degree, function (in the bathroom) but he needs supervision due to his motor-planning skills and spatial awareness," says Gallinaro. "‘Nobody has ever given me a hard time about it because I am with him the whole time."

According to the lawsuit, her son needed to use the bathroom during the film. The lawsuit says the theater does not have a family restroom and Gallinaro didn't feel comfortable entering the men's room with her son, so they used the women's bathroom.

Her son was finishing washing his hands with Gallinaro observing from the bathroom entrance, when the lawsuit says a female employee walked in.

"She brushed by me, quickly and aggressively to be inches within my son," Gallinaro tells "I said, 'Is there a problem?' and she answered, 'He should not be in here.'"

The lawsuit states that the employee entered "with an angry and hostile demeanor," coming "within markedly close proximity" of the teen.

At one point, Gallinaro tells and states in the lawsuit, the employee said something like, "A grown man or boy should not be in a women's bathroom.'"

Gallinaro says she asked to speak to a supervisor; the lawsuit says the employee stated, ‘This is not a transgender bathroom” and told them to leave the theater.

Gallinaro says that at some point, the employee walked away and security guards approached.

"I felt ganged up on and cornered," she tells

Gallinaro says after she started recording the conversation on her cell phone, the guards allowed her and her son to continue watching the movie. Back in their seats, he told his mom, "Go home," so they left. On their way out, she says, they were met by police officers. After a brief conversation, says Gallinaro, they went home.

Representatives of Cinemark and the Hazlet Police Department did not respond to requests for comments from

Gallinaro says she is heartbroken that her son feels responsible for the incident. "He is still apologizing to his day," she says. The lawsuit says that her son is scared to use the bathroom at home, has difficulty sleeping and refuses to return to Hazlet 12.

"Children with disabilities are already dealing with trauma," she says. "To have to hear your mom publicly defend your bathroom use adds more layers."

The family's attorney, Armen McOmber, tells that Cinemark should take accountability for the incident.

"You can't deny a disabled child or adult (or anyone from a protected class) the same rights and privileges to public accommodations — if there is no family bathroom, what option did Christine have?" he says.

The lawsuit, filed in Monmouth County, argues that cinema employees violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, were negligent in their supervision of employees and "intentionally, or recklessly committed acts or omissions producing emotional distress" to the teenager.

"I would love a formal apology from Cinemark to my son," says Gallinaro. "If my son chooses to return, I'd want him welcomed back by Cinemark. And I want to see more family bathrooms."