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Can a Business Ban a Customer?

There’s a saying – 1 bad customer is worse than 1, 000 good customers.  Every day, in small businesses across the country, business owners deal with customers that are unreasonable, difficult, or have overly unrealistic expectations.

Sometimes, businesses feel like they’re doubling over backward trying to make a customer happy. Some businesses give up, and wonder can a business ban a customer?

If you are a business owner and are thinking about banning a customer and want to understand the legal issues, read on for some tips.

Is it Legal to Ban a Customer?

A business that is a private business  (meaning, unconnected to the government) absolutely has a right to refuse service, and choose who it wants to serve or not.  This can include selling products, services, asking customers to leave the store’s premises, refusing to allow customers to enter, and taking other steps.

Part of your rights as a business owner includes the right to choose who can and cannot come to your business, whether it is a restaurant, store or office. However, the balance between the business owners’ rights and the consumer’s rights can be delicate.

The Business’s Right to Refuse Service

A business can refuse to serve a customer, or ban service being provided to a particular customer, as long as the customer does not feel as though they are being refused service on the basis of an unlawful reason, such as their race, national origin, gender, religious background, sexual orientation, or other unlawful characteristic. As the business owner,you have the right to ask customers to leave, and you have the right to refuse service.

The danger, however, is in a customer feeling as though your actions are being taken because of their race, national origin, gender, religious background, sexual orientation, or other characteristic that his protected under state law, including in California.

Civil Rights under Federal law and California law

Federal law protects customers from being banned from a business under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and also pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Civil Rights Act provides protection that all customers are able to enjoy the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”

Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects customers against discrimination based on their disability such as refusing to allow a customer with their service animal.

In California, the Unruh Act similarly provides protection for individuals of diverse backgrounds, skin color, sexual orientation, religion, and other natural characteristics from being discriminated against. Essentially, this means that you can refuse service or ban a customer, but not for an unlawful reason, such as, because you do not want certain types of people in your store based on their skin color, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other basis. This includes refusing service because you do not like the person’s lifestyle, including people of diverse sexual orientation or LGBTQ status.

You may have read recent stories in the news about cake decorators and wedding caterers refusing service to gay couples – this type of refusal to serve is generally unlawful because it is based on an underlying unlawful reason (i.e., sexual orientation).

Valid Reasons under the Law to Ban a Customer or Refuse Service

A business can legally ban a customer not only based on its discretion, but also for health, safety, or other similar reasons, such as the customer being unruly, disrupting the business or its operations, causing injury, stress, or upset to employees, contractors, or other customers. These are all legitimate reasons that a customer could be banned, so long as there is no federal or local civil rights being violated in the process.

Overall, a business can ban a customer from their business based on their own rules, and reasons. The caveat is that business must be careful to avoid at all possible costs violating federal and state laws protecting the consumers’ civil rights.


Getting Legal Help

AXIS Legal Counsel’s Business and Corporations Practice provides legal advice to numerous businesses with a wide range of business matters. Axis  represent small, medium-sized, and large business clients with a wide variety of business and corporate law matters. We represent early-stage companies as well as established businesses on a wide variety of business law matters, ranging from contracts and transactions, intellectual property, labor/employment law, business financing, mergers and acquisitions, real estate, insurance, business succession planning, and general advice and counsel.  For information on retaining AXIS Legal Counsel to represent your business in connection with any legal matter, contact [email protected] or call (213) 403-0100 for a confidential consultation.


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