Is The "Right To Refuse Service" The Right To Discriminate?

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We'll all seen those signs on the front of restaurants and small businesses that say, "We reserve the right to refuse service." Well, what does that actually mean?
Does the right to refuse service give these businesses the right to discriminate against a person?
Do those signs have any legal backing or are they just for show? Do they have the right to refuse service?
The answer to that is yes, they have a legal right to refuse service, most of the time. There are important exceptions to the statement.
Places of public accommodation have the right to refuse service to people as long as it is not due to discrimination based on race, disability, religion, nationality, sex, or skin color. These are protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Refusing service based on one of the above categories would constitute discrimination.
What are places of accommodation?
These can be restaurants, bars, banks, or retail stores, to name a few.
When can a business refuse service to a person?
  • If a person causes the place to become a hostile environment
  • If a person makes a threat or is a danger to the place
  • If a person does not dress according to their "code", as long as it is not religiously motivated
  • If a person tries to enter despite being told that the place is already at maximum capacity
  • If a person acts unruly
What is discrimination?
Discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently based on some category. Typically discrimination is associated with unlawful treatment of people on the grounds of race, sex, or religion.
What issues are still ambiguous when it comes to the legality of discriminating in a public accommodation? In some states:
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identification
For more information about the right to refuse service in public accommodations, send us a message.