Are “Right to Refuse Service” Signs Legal?

If you have been keeping up with news headlines, you have likely noticed the issue of a business’s “right to refuse” service come to the forefront. From the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before the Supreme Court of the United States, to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ being refused service at a Red Hen, the issue is on America’s mind. While “right to refuse service” signs are legal, they do not give an owner carte blanche to refuse to serve a patron.

No Unrestricted Right to Refuse

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 expressly prohibits establishments from refusing service to patrons based on a protected class. These include race, color, religion, and national origin. Beyond this, courts generally do not allow businesses to refuse service to a patron based on an arbitrary reason. Furthermore, even if a “right to refuse service” sign is posted that does not mean a court of law will not find the refusal to be discriminatory or against the law in some other fashion. In other words, an establishment that has a “right to refuse service” sign is still subject to the same laws as one that does not have a sign posted.

While many may think that a private business should not be subject to anti-discrimination laws, this is not the case when the business is considered a place of public accommodation. Simply put, when the primary purpose of the business is to provide a good or service to the general public (think restaurant, hotel, airline, etc.) courts have determined that this requires it be governed by equal protection laws. In short, the simple fact that a business is a private one on private property does not excuse an unjustified refusal of service.

When Refusal of Service is Justified

While unlawful refusal of service is prohibited, there are some circumstances in which a business owner’s refusal to serve a patron may be justified under the law. There are several legitimate reasons to refuse service, including when patron(s):

  • Are acting unreasonably rowdy or causing trouble in the business;

  • Lack adequate hygiene such as excess dirt, extreme body odor, etc.;

  • If allowed inside the business, will overfill legally allowable capacity;

  • Who enter just before closing and request service that would not be feasible; and

  • Who are accompanied by a large group who are simply loitering.

Generally speaking, a business may refuse to provide service to a patron whose presence in the establishment detracts from the overall safety, well-being, or welfare of other patrons inside the establishment.

Learn About Your Legal Rights

If you believe you or someone you care about has been refused service by a business on the basis of a protected class, know that you have rights under the law. While an establishment may refuse service for some reasons, unlawful refusal of service is not tolerated by the law. Contact Parry & Pfau today to learn more. These skilled lawyers can explain your rights under state and federal laws so that you know what legal options you have available to you.