As a business owner, you’re free to make many decisions about how you do business without government interference. However, you still have to abide by local, state and federal laws.
Let’s look at when you can refuse to serve a customer. It’s your business, and you want to serve every customer who walks through the door, but don’t you have a right to turn people away? You don’t if refusing to serve someone can be seen as discriminating against a member of a group protected under the law.
What does California law say?
According to the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, California law requires “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services in all business establishments.” The law also states that businesses can’t charge one group more than another for the same product or service. Even a “Ladies drink for half price” night in a bar could be problematic.
California has among the most protected classes of people in the country. California businesses cannot discriminate based on race, religion, ancestry, language, pregnancy, gender identity or expression, medical condition and more.
That doesn’t mean that if someone is behaving in a way that is disruptive to the business, an owner has no right to tell them to leave. However, they can’t discriminate against someone based on reasons that are illegal.
Avoiding accusations of discrimination
There’s no guarantee that a customer won’t accuse you of discriminating against them because of their race, sexual orientation or gender. However, if you have a valid reason for refusing service, didn’t make any disparaging comments about their identity (whatever that may be) and you don’t make a habit of refusing service to people of a particular group, attempted legal action isn’t likely to go anywhere.
If you do turn someone away or deny a request for service, it’s wise to document the incident – particularly if the customer seemed personally offended or left threatening to sue for discrimination. However, you never know when someone can seemingly understand your reasoning and then decide later that they were a victim of discrimination. It’s wise to know the applicable laws and seek legal guidance if you have questions.