Discrimination in a Private Business – Legal or Illegal?
The question is not whether a business can discriminate or not – many do so openly on a regular basis. A women's fitness center discriminates against men who might want to join, while a well-known golf club in Georgia excludes females altogether. Both of these examples portray gender discrimination. The real issues, then, are whether businesses have the right to legally withhold services in a discriminatory manner, and if so, what are the boundaries.
We want to point out that employment discrimination relates to a company's hiring practices and is a different topic altogether. Discrimination against consumers is a vast topic, but in this article, we'll start with the basics of whether a Texas business can legally withhold services.
What is the definition of discrimination?
Discrimination is one of those concepts we all understand, but which is difficult to reduce to a simple definition. Multiple examples can be used to illustrate discrimination in various circumstances, but at its basic level, discrimination is the act of treating someone differently for reasons that have no rational basis. A person may be discriminated against for skin color, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or a host of other improper reasons.
When is discrimination specifically prohibited by law?
Generally, customers of public accommodations such as restaurants, movie theaters, and gas stations are protected by federal law from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or other protected status. Federal law also provides that all citizens have equal rights to make and enforce contracts. These rights are guaranteed by Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
Retail stores are a gray area, however, because federal courts have held that retail shopping is not a “public accommodation” and browsing in a store doesn't normally invoke the right-to-contract provision. While many states have passed anti-discrimination laws similar to or more stringent than federal laws, Texas is one of a handful of states that relies solely on the federal anti-discrimination provisions of the civil rights law. This means retail stores in Texas are probably not prohibited by state or federal law from engaging in discriminatory practices.
Nevertheless, some local governments in Texas have taken up the cause and have ordinances on the books which prohibit unlawful discrimination in retail establishments. Thus its critical to become familiar with the city and county laws which apply to your business.
Call today to speak to an experienced business litigation attorney
Business owners and managers s in Texas should find out exactly where they stand on the issue of discrimination. At Peterson Law Group, our business litigation attorneys explain the law as it relates to your specific situation and location. Schedule a consultation today by calling 979-703-7014 or visit us online to request a meeting.