Cathedral City, CA asked in Civil Rights for California

Q: What is law of refusing service and what can I do about my problem?

I was denied further service by wife of owner because she claims her husband(Owner) and I had a conversation not business related.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Amanda M. Rokita
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  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: Under Federal law, businesses can refuse service to persons for any reason unless the business is discriminating against a protected class such as race/color, national origin/citizenship status, religion, sex, age, etc. CA has additional protected classes, including marital status, sexual orientation, AIDS/HIV status, etc.

Generally, a business owner cannot refuse service to a person based on arbitrary reasons outside of a protected class. A legitimate reason for refusing service would be because a customer’s presence interferes with the establishment or it’s customer’s safety. For example, if the customer threatens a business owner/employee, causing that person to legitimately feel like they are in danger. Another example would be a patron with poor hygiene in a restaurant or an owner of an animal that is a non-service animal to wander off into the food preparation area of a restaurant.

Preventing potential violence is also considered to be a legitimate business interest where refusal of service would be proper. For example, a bar in a gang-ridden area prohibiting entry to persons wearing certain colors likely to lead to fights between gang members would be a justified reason to refuse service to persons.

If the conversation with the owner of the business became heated and caused the owner or customers in the store to feel unsafe, then the refusal may have been proper. If you believe that the refusal was improper, I suggest you meet with and an attorney experienced in civil rights law. Once you provide further details regarding the event, he/she can accurately advise you on how to proceed.

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