Cases (menu position rule)
In June 2005, the California Court of Appeal issued a published court decision stating that customers cannot sue to enforce their right to equal treatment by businesses unless they were treated unequally, protested the unequal treatment and again were denied equal treatment. Lambda Legal and co-counsel filed an amicus brief pointing out that the law contains no “confrontation” requirement and arguing that businesses should have to follow the law as written. If people who are treated unequally cannot sue to enforce the law without first having to confront those who have discriminated against them, ask for equal treatment, and again be refused, then the law fails in its stated goal of requiring that all customers be treated the same in the first place. We are awaiting oral argument and decision.
California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act requires that businesses treat all customers equally, without discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex (including gender identity), sexual orientation, marital status, religion and numerous other personal characteristics. This fundamental guarantee ensures that public accommodations — from restaurants and rental housing to doctors’ offices and schools to night clubs and even country clubs — are open to everyone without arbitrary socially destructive bias.
Lambda Legal's Impact
If the Unruh Act is interpreted to require that a victim of discrimination must identify a business’s authority figure and confront that person directly, making a personal request for equal treatment, this important law will become a toothless tiger for many. This is especially true for LGBT people, many of whom are not accustomed to being public about their sexual orientation, do not consider themselves gay activists and lack confidence that the law really does protect them.
- June 2005 Court of Appeal issues published decision that customers cannot sue for equal treatment by businesses unless they were treated unequally, protested the unequal treatment and again were denied equal treatment.
- August 2005 Lambda Legal submits letter to California Supreme Court urging the court to order depublication of the Court of Appeal decision. California Supreme Court grants review, thereby vacating and depublishing bad intermediate appellate court decision.
- May 2006 California Supreme Court accepts friend-of-the-court brief from Lambda Legal and ACLU Foundations of Southern California, Northern California and San Diego & Imperial Counties arguing that businesses should have to follow the law as written.
- May 2007 California Supreme Court reverses the Court of Appeal's decision.
Jennifer C. Pizer
Christine Sun and Hector Villagra of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California; Tamara Lange of the ACLU Foundation of Northern California; David Blair-Loy of the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties