WHEN IS A BUSINESS LIABLE FOR VIOLATING A PATRON’S CIVIL RIGHTS?
WHEN IS A BUSINESS LIABLE FOR VIOLATING A PATRON’S CIVIL RIGHTS?
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WHEN IS A BUSINESS LIABLE FOR VIOLATING A PATRON’S CIVIL RIGHTS?

| Dec 29, 2018 | Firm News

Plaintiffs alleged that they visited a hotel owned and managed by defendants.  One plaintiff is paraplegic and employs the use of a service dog. The other plaintiff was the first plaintiff’s wife, and the married plaintiff’s stepsons. Plaintiffs allege that they visited defendants’ hotel, but management refused to rent them a room unless they first paid a non-refundable cleaning fee relating to the dog. They allege that the charge for the room was $80, and the nonrefundable cleaning fee was $300. Plaintiffs left the hotel without paying the fee or checking in as guests.

Plaintiffs sued defendants in two separate lawsuits, one brought by the disabled plaintiff and one brought by other three plaintiff. In both actions, plaintiffs alleged violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civil Code, § 512 ) and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants argued that plaintiffs’ pleadings could not establish standing due to a “bright-line rule” articulated in Surrey v. True Beginnings (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 414, 416 (Surrey), that under the Unruh Act, “a person must tender the purchase price for a business’s services or products in order to have standing to sue it for alleged discriminatory practices relating thereto.” Because plaintiffs left the hotel without paying the fee, defendants argued, they did not have standing to assert an Unruh Act cause of action.

The trial court sustained defendants’ demurrers without leave to amend. Plaintiffs appealed from the judgments entered in their two separate cases. The court of appeal consolidated the cases for purposes of oral argument and decision. While the court agreed with the result in Surrey, they found that its bright-line rule is not applicable to the facts of this case. Section 52, which provides remedies for violations of the Unruh Act, states that any person aggrieved by conduct that violates the Unruh Act may bring a civil action. (§ 52, subd. (c).) When a disabled person such as the disabled plaintiff alleges that he presented himself to a business establishment and was required to pay a fee relating to his disability before accessing the products or services offered, he has stated facts sufficient to establish that he is a person aggrieved as defined in section 52, subdivision (c), and he has therefore alleged facts sufficient to demonstrate standing to sue under the Unruh Act. A plaintiff is not required to pay a discriminatory fee to establish standing to sue under the Unruh Act, as long as the plaintiff alleges facts showing that he or she has directly experienced a denial of rights as defined in sections 51 and 52. In addition, when a disabled individual has standing to sue under section 52, subdivision (c), any person “associated with” that individual (§ 51.5, subd. (a)) has standing if the associated person has also directly experienced the discriminatory conduct. The appeal court therefore reversed the judgments and remanded for further proceedings.

“As a general principle, standing to invoke the judicial process requires an actual justiciable controversy as to which the complainant has a real interest in the ultimate adjudication because he or she has either suffered or is about to suffer an injury of sufficient magnitude reasonably to assure that all of the relevant facts and issues will be adequately presented to the adjudicator.” (Holmes v. California Nat. Guard (2001) 90 Cal.App.4th 297, 314-315.) “The prerequisites for standing to assert statutorily based causes of action are determined from the statutory language, as well as the underlying legislative intent and the purpose of the statute.” (Boorstein v. CBS Interactive, Inc. (2013) 222 Cal.App.4th 456, 466.)

The Unruh Act states, “All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.” (§ 51, subd. (b).) In California, “[t]wo overlapping laws, the Unruh Civil Rights Act (§ 51) and the Disabled Persons Act (§§ 54-55.3), are the principal sources of state disability access protection.” (Jankey v. Lee (2012) 55 Cal.4th 1038, 1044.)

“The Unruh Civil Rights Act broadly outlaws arbitrary discrimination in public accommodations and includes disability as one among many prohibited bases. (§ 51, subd. (b).) As part of the 1992 reformation of state disability law, the Legislature amended the Unruh Civil Rights Act to incorporate by reference the ADA [the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990], making violations of the ADA per se violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. (§ 51, subd. (f); Munson v. Del Taco, Inc., supra, 46 Cal.4th at pp. 668-669.) This amendment was intended to extend to disabled individuals aggrieved by an ADA violation the full panoply of Unruh Civil Rights Act remedies. (Munson, at p. 673.) These include injunctive relief, actual damages (and in some cases as much as treble damages), and a minimum statutory award of $4,000 per violation. (§ 52, subds. (a), (c)(3); Turner v. Association of American Medical Colleges (2011) 193 Cal.App.4th 1047, 1058, [123 Cal.Rptr.3d 395].)” (Jankey, supra, 55 Cal.4th at p. 1044.) “The Act is to be given a liberal construction with a view to effectuating its purposes.” (Koire v. Metro Car Wash (1985) 40 Cal.3d 24, 28.)

Standing under the Unruh Act is broad. When “any person or group of persons is engaged in conduct of resistance to the full enjoyment of any of the rights described in this section . . . any person aggrieved by the conduct may bring a civil action . . . .” (§ 52, subd. (c).) As the Supreme Court stated, “[A]n individual plaintiff has standing under the [Unruh] Act if he or she has been the victim of the defendant’s discriminatory act.” (Angelucci v. Century Supper Club (2007) 41 Cal.4th 160, 175.) “The prerequisites for standing to assert statutorily-based causes of action are to be determined from the statutory language, as well as the underlying legislative intent and the purpose of the statute.” (Surrey, supra, 168 Cal.App.4th at pp. 417-418.) “The focus of the standing inquiry is on the plaintiff, not on the issues he or she seeks to have determined; he or she must have a special interest that is greater than the interest of the public at large and that is concrete and actual rather than conjectural or hypothetical.” (Id. at p. 418.)

Early common law decisions created a duty to serve all customers on reasonable terms without discrimination. (See In re Cox (1970) 3 Cal.3d 205, 212.) “The California Legislature, in 1897, enacted these common law doctrines into the statutory predecessor of the present Unruh Civil Rights Act [also codified as Civil Code section 51]. (See Klein, The California Equal Rights Statutes in Practice (1958) 10 Stan.L.Rev. 253, 255- 258.)

The 1897 act provided: ‘That all citizens within the jurisdiction of this State shall be entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges of inns, restaurants, hotels, eating-houses, barber-shops, bath-houses, theaters, skating-rinks, and all other places of public accommodation or amusement, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to all citizens.’ (Stats. 1897, ch. 108, p. 137, § 1.)

A 1919 amendment broadened the act to encompass public conveyances. (Stats. 1919, ch. 210, p. 309, § 1.) In 1923 the Legislature extended the act’s coverage to ‘places where ice cream or soft drinks of any kind are sold for consumption on the premises.’ (Stats. 1923, ch. 235, p. 485, § 1.)” (Cox, supra, 3 Cal.3d at p. 213.) Section 52 provided that anyone who denied the rights provided in section 51 was liable for damages. (Id. at p. 214, fn. 6.)

See Osborne et al. v Yasmeh et al.

See Daniel v Paul, 395 U.S. 298 (1969) on violations of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,

If you have been discriminated against, you should contact Robert Rodriguez Attorney for immediate legal assistance!

Robert Rodriguez has litigated well over 100 family law cases and civil litigation matters including personal injury motor vehicle cases, dog bite and slip & fall cases, breach of contract, defamation & invasion of privacy, fraud, unfair business practice, malicious prosecution, wrongful termination, workplace and employment matters including sexual harassment, wage & hour violations, discrimination pursuant to the FEHA, Gov’t Code §§ 12940 et seq., violations of the FMLA & Pregnancy Leave, Civil Rights  discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the State of California and California federal district courts.

* Disclaimer – Robert Rodriguez is licensed to practice only in the State of California & this analysis is applied only under State of California law.  Robert D. Rodriguez is also admitted to practice in the U.S. District Courts, Central, Northern & Eastern Districts of California.  Robert Rodriguez has practiced in the State of California Court of Appeal.

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