Lambda Legal Sues California Barbershop for Refusing to Serve Transgender Customer

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“A business has no right to impose its gender stereotypes on its customers, and trying to justify those beliefs with religion does not excuse unlawful discrimination.”
May 25, 2016

(Los Angeles, CA, May 25, 2016) – Lambda Legal and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson today filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court against a southern California barbershop alleging the business violated California’s civil rights laws when it denied Kendall Oliver, who is transgender, a haircut based on religious objections to serving customers who are female or perceived as female.

“All Kendall wanted was a short haircut like any other paying customer.  Kendall’s sex shouldn’t have mattered.  California’s civil rights laws give all of us the right to be served by businesses no matter what our sex, race, or religion,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Peter Renn said. “A business has no right to impose its gender stereotypes on its customers, and trying to justify those beliefs with religion does not excuse unlawful discrimination.  The fact that discrimination may be religiously motivated doesn’t make it any less harmful to the person on its receiving end.”

Kendall recently moved back to California and was looking for a new barber. Kendall made an appointment for a haircut at The Barbershop in Rancho Cucamonga, but when they showed up for their appointment, Kendall was perceived as female and was informed that The Barbershop would not cut women’s hair.  Kendall pointed out that all they wanted was a “men’s haircut” but was nonetheless denied service.  Although Kendall’s birth-assigned sex is female, that does not match Kendall’s gender identity, which is more male than female.  Kendall also uses the gender-neutral pronouns “they,” “them,” and “their.”

After leaving The Barbershop, Kendall called the business owner and explained that Kendall is transgender and identifies more as male than female.  However, the business owner again refused service, stating that he would not cut the hair of “any kind of woman.”  He later explained to reporters that “God teaches a very clear distinction between the genders,” that people should not “go against what God has created,” and that “it’s a shame for a man to have long hair, but if a woman has long hair, it’s her glory.”

“I was hurt and humiliated to be unable to get something as basic as a haircut, based on assumptions about who I am and expectations about who I should be,” Kendall said. "When you go for a haircut, you don’t expect your barber to police your gender.  A business may think I’m going against God’s will by having short hair, but that doesn’t give it the right to act on that belief and to deny me the same service that it provides to others."

In its lawsuit filed today in the San Bernardino County Superior Court, Lambda Legal alleges a violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.  The Act guarantees all people full and equal access to all business establishments in California without regard to their sex (which includes their gender, gender identity, and gender expression), race, religion, and other characteristics.

“America is filled with an endless diversity of religious beliefs -- and that’s exactly why each person cannot simply refuse to follow the law based on personal disagreement.  That would make mincemeat of our laws in general and our civil rights laws in particular,” Renn said. “If a barbershop can refuse to cut the hair of a customer perceived as female, what’s to stop a store from refusing to sell pants to that same customer and insisting they wear a skirt instead?  We don’t allow businesses to impose such judgments on others.”

The case is Oliver v. The Barbershop. The complaint is available here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/ca_oliver_20160525_complaint

Handling the case for Lambda Legal are Peter Renn and Susan Sommer, joined by pro-bono co-counsel Katherine Forster and Jennifer Bryant of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.

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Contact Info

Tom Warnke, Cell: 213-841-4503: Email: twarnke@lambdalegal.org
Related Issues: Transgender Rights

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