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Restaurant Owner Refuses Service to a Customer

06.05.19 written by

Recently, White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was denied service at the Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington, Virginia for political reasons and because Ms. Sanders was affiliated with President Trump and supported his agenda.  The owner of the restaurant stated that she felt that she had to uphold certain standards, such as honesty, compassion, and cooperation, and she did not feel that Ms. Sanders and President Trump were doing that. Therefore, she took a stand and refused to serve Ms. Sanders, and asked her to leave. 

As a result of her being denied service and asked to leave the restaurant, Ms. Sanders sent out some tweets on Twitter regarding this denial of service.  This then started a Twitter war of words between individuals.  Some individuals could not believe that the restaurant owner could deny service to Ms. Sanders.  Other individuals took the restaurant owner’s side and praised the restaurant owner for taking a stand against Ms. Sanders and the administration for which she worked.  This situation has brought about much debate over whether a restaurant owner could deny service to Ms. Sanders because of her political beliefs.

Some people may find it hard to believe that a restaurant owner can legally refuse to serve someone who enters their restaurant on the basis of political affiliation or disagreement with their political opinions or affiliations.  However, under the current law, the restaurant owner’s actions are protected.  However, there are a couple of exceptions where this type of action may not be permissible under the law.  One exception is that the denial of service cannot be based on race, gender, national origin, or religion, because those items are protected under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Any denial of service for these items is discrimination and would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

The other exception to the general rule that you can deny service based on political affiliation or political opinion is if that particular jurisdiction where the restaurant is located has a law prohibiting restaurants or other public entities from discriminating based on political affiliation or opinion. For example, Washington, D.C., has such a statute.  Therefore if Ms. Sanders had been in a restaurant in Washington, D.C., the restaurant owner would not have been able to deny Ms. Sanders service legally.  Most states do not have these types of statutes and therefore restaurant owners can deny service to a patron for political reasons in a number of jurisdictions in the United States.

This situation is one of the first situations made public where a restaurant owner has refused to serve a patron based on political affiliation. However, based on the political climate we are currently living in, this will probably not be the last time that we hear about a restaurant owner denying service to a patron for political reasons.

NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.