Last week, I posted about an Oregon case where a pub owner ran afoul of Oregon public accommodation law by asking certain customers not to patronize his business.
Staying on that topic, Palm Beach County has recently expanded its public accommodation law to include more types of businesses. The prior version of the ordinance, 15-37, defined a place of public accommodation as: (1) inns, hotels, motels and other lodging open to the public; (2) restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, and other food service providers open to the public; and (3) movie theaters, concert halls, sports arenas, etc.
The new version of the public accommodation law greatly expands the types of businesses covered and includes businesses like florists and wedding cake bakers. The following types of businesses are now covered under this ordinance:
a. Any inn, hotel, motel or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests, other than an establishment located within a building which contains not more than five (5) rooms for rent or hire and which is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as his/her residence;
b. Any restaurant, bar, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or other facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises, including but not limited to any such facility located on the premises of any retail establishment;
c. Any motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium or other place of exhibition or entertainment;
d. An auditorium, convention center, lecture hall or other place of public gathering;
e. A bakery, grocery store, clothing store, hardware store, shopping center, or other sales or retail establishment;
f. A Laundromat, dry-cleaner, bank, barber shop, beauty shop, travel service, shoe repair service, funeral parlor, gas station, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, health care provider, hospital or other service establishment;
g. A terminal, depot or other station used for a specified public transportation including but not limited to taxis, limousines and buses;
h. A museum, library, gallery or other place of public display or collection;
i. A park, zoo, amusement park or other place of recreations;
j. A nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate or postgraduate private school, or other place of education;
k. A day care center, senior citizen center, homeless shelter, food bank, adoption agency or other social service center establishment;
l. A gymnasium, health spa, bowling alley, golf course, or other place of exercise or recreation;
m. Any area or structure provided for the purpose of storing personal property.
Religious institutions and private clubs are not included in the definition of places of public accommodation.
How Should Businesses Prepare?
Basically, the bottom line is that if you run a business in Palm Beach County that is open to the public you are covered by the public accommodation law. So, that means you cannot deny services to someone based on race, sex, color, religion, national origin, disability, familial status, sexual orientation, age, marital status, or gender identity or expression.
Train your staff that refusing service should be done with extreme caution and only for very limited reasons like safety purposes (i.e. disruptive or dangerous customer).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.