Munson v. Del Taco, Inc.
California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act requires that public accommodations — businesses such as restaurants, rental housing, and doctors’ offices — are open to everyone, without arbitrary discrimination based on disability (including HIV), sex (including gender identity), sexual orientation, race or several other personal characteristics. Similarly, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids denying disabled people equal access to public places. In 1992, California revised the Unruh Act to better protect disabled Californians from discrimination by saying that a plaintiff who proves an ADA violation has also proven a state law violation.
In Munson, the California Supreme Court was asked to decide whether additional proof would be needed for disabled Californians to get monetary relief when they are discriminated against in violation of both the ADA and the Unruh Act: specifically, whether they would be required to demonstrate intentional discrimination for every claim — an additional burden that would have deprived many disabled Californians of the full protection of the state law. Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Court to make sure all disabled Californians, including those with HIV, are afforded effective protection under the state antidiscrimination law without overly burdensome proof requirements.
Millions of Californians, including people with HIV, rely on the Unruh Civil Rights Act to protect them from discrimination in business establishments. Because misinformation, confusion and bias relating to HIV remains prevalent, it is critically important that we have effective laws to prevent denials of equal access and to eliminate discrimination from California’s community life. To deter businesses from discriminatory behavior, victims must have effective ways to bring discrimination claims without overly burdensome proof requirements.
Lambda Legal's Impact
Lambda Legal’s brief ensured that the Court was aware that its ruling would affect all disabled Californians, including the many Californians living with HIV who depend on the Unruh Act for protection from discrimination.
- June 2005 Plaintiff Kenneth Munson files lawsuit against Del Taco, Inc. for discrimination based on his disability.
- June 2008 The California Supreme Court accepts review of a new question under California law: Are plaintiffs required to prove an additional element of intent to state a claim for discrimination under the Unruh Civil Rights Act?
- December 2008 Lambda Legal files friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of several HIV advocacy organizations, explaining the need for effective antidiscrimination protections for people living with HIV.
- June 2009 Victory! The California Supreme Court unanimously rules that California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act does not impose extra legal hurdles for people with disabilities, including people living with HIV who seek damages for discrimination.
Bebe J. Anderson, Scott Schoettes, Tara Borelli