Recently, an Oregon Appeals Court upheld a 2013 ruling by Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, which found that a Portland pub owner violated a state statute prohibiting private businesses from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  These laws are also known as public accommodation laws.

The pub owner left two voice mail messages for a group that included transgender women, cross-dressing straight individuals, gay men and lesbian and asked them not to patronize his bar as he was loosing business because other folks thought his bar was a “tranny” or gay bar.  The pub owner did not assert a religious basis but a business one.   The outcome of the investigation included a $400,000 fine for the pub and it later closed.

Florida Public Accommodation Laws

While Florida’s Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected category, many counties and municipalities have passed Human Rights Ordinances that do provide public accommodation protection for  lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (“LGBT”) individuals.

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Now if you are a business owner, you may be asking “don’t I have the right to refuse service?”  The answer to that question – it depends.  You likely are safe if you refuse service for the following reasons:

  • Individuals or groups who are causing trouble or being disruptive;
  • Capacity limits can and should be enforced;
  • Businesses can also decline to serve those who come in just before closing time;
  • Customers harassing other customers or staff or causing other safety issues can be asked to leave;
  • Dress codes can also be enforced (make sure you have clear standards and are not engaged in selective enforcement).

The bottom line is that a business owner can choose to refuse service, but such refusal should (many would say must) be based on behavior and not on the customer’s status or protected category.  Refusing service can be a minefield of danger so tread carefully.

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Dori K. Stibolt is an partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.