Geonetta & Frucht, LLP
By: Geonetta & Frucht, LLP

How Does California Law Protect You From Discrimination?

With its strong progressive approach, this state leads the U.S. in the fight against discrimination. If you’ve been discriminated against by a California business – or if that happens to you in the future – arrange at once to discuss your rights with a San Francisco discrimination attorney.

What is the Unruh Civil Rights Act (or “Unruh Act”) of 1959, and how does it protect consumers in this state against discrimination? Which businesses in California are subject to the Unruh Act, and when? What are your rights if you become a victim of discrimination in this state?

If you will continue to read this brief discussion of the Unruh Act and your rights as a consumer in California, you will find answers to these questions, and you will learn how a San Francisco civil rights lawyer can help if you are – or if you become – a victim of illegal discrimination.

What is the Unruh Civil Rights Act?

The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits California businesses from practicing discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex, race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, ancestry, national origin, immigration status, genetic information, medical condition, language, or citizenship.

Named for its author, former speaker of the California State Assembly Jesse M. Unruh, the Unruh Act covers all California businesses including motels and hotels, theaters, restaurants, amusement parks, beauty and barber shops, hospitals, retailers, and housing accommodations.

The language of the Unruh Act states: “All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and . . . are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”

What Does the Unruh Civil Rights Act Provide?

The Unruh Act requires all public accommodations and businesses in the State of California to offer equal access to their facilities and their services. This may include sign language interpreters, physical wheelchair access, and other appropriate provisions and accommodations.

Even before a 2005 amendment included sexual orientation on the Unruh Act’s list of protected classes, the courts in California held that the Unruh Act protected lesbians and gays against discrimination by businesses (in Rolon v. Kulwitzky, 1984).

In that case, after a lesbian couple was refused seating in a semi-private booth at a Los Angeles restaurant, the couple brought a discrimination claim, and the Court of Appeals of California, Second District, held that the restaurant had engaged in unlawful discrimination.

In What Other Ways Have Courts Applied the Unruh Act?

California’s Supreme Court has also determined that the Unruh Civil Rights Act makes sex-based drink prices at nightclubs and bars (on “ladies’ nights”) illegal. If men and women do not pay the same prices for drinks, it constitutes unlawful discrimination, according to the Court.

The courts in California have also held that private schools are not covered under the Unruh Act because they are not businesses, although the Unruh Act applies when a private school engages in a business activity (such as the selling of tickets to the school’s sports events).

How is the Unruh Act Violated?

Unruh Act violations also include but aren’t limited to the following examples:

  1.  A medical provider refuses treatment to someone who is HIV-positive.
  2.  A hotel or motel charges members of one racial or ethnic group an extra fee.
  3.  A visually impaired person is prevented from taking his or her service animal into a store.
  4.  Women and men are charged differently for similar services like haircuts or dry cleaning.

What Steps Can Discrimination Victims Take?

Many Unruh Act lawsuits are filed by disabled persons alleging that conditions at a store or another facility are not accessible, but the Unruh Civil Rights Act is now interpreted by the courts as a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that is not limited simply to ensuring equal access.

If a business discriminates against you, try to document that discrimination. Try to get the names of those involved in the discrimination incident, and write down the exact location, time, and date. If witnesses, photos, or video can help you verify your claim, your case will be stronger.

Under the Unruh Act, you have the right to bring a discrimination claim against a California business that has discriminated against you, and you have a right to seek monetary compensation from that business. The first step is consulting a San Francisco discrimination attorney.

How Are You Compensated if Your Discrimination Claim Prevails?

Discrimination victims may sue a business for the following:

  1.  Injunctive relief: As the plaintiff in an Unruh Act lawsuit, you may ask the court for an injunction that orders a business to provide equal access by a particular deadline.
  2.  Monetary damages: Businesses may be ordered to pay $4,000 for each occurrence of discrimination – that is, for each day the plaintiff runs into unlawful obstacles to equal access.
  3.  Legal costs and lawyer fees: When a plaintiff prevails with an Unruh Act lawsuit, the court may order the defendant (the business deemed liable for discrimination) to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fee and other legal expenses.

How Much Will You Pay an Attorney?

When you contact a San Francisco civil rights lawyer about your discrimination claim, you pay nothing for your first legal consultation, and there is no obligation. It’s your opportunity to receive personalized legal advice and to learn how the law applies to your personal situation.

If you move forward with a legal action, your attorney will handle your case on a contingent fee basis, so you will owe no lawyer’s fee unless and until your lawyer recovers your compensation.

And as mentioned previously, the courts may order defendants in these cases to pay a plaintiff’s legal fees. But how can you know which California discrimination attorney you should choose?

Why You Should Choose Geonetta & Frucht

California civil rights attorneys Kenneth Frucht and Fred Geonetta have over four decades of combined civil rights experience. They have recovered generous settlements and verdicts for their clients in discrimination and civil rights cases.

Geonetta & Frucht provides comprehensive, trusted advice and legal services throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and northern California. With offices in Oakland and San Francisco, we are ready to fight aggressively and effectively for your rights.

If a California business has discriminated against you – or if a business discriminates against you in the future – promptly contact Geonetta & Frucht by calling 415-433-4589 (in San Francisco) or 510-254-3777 (in Oakland) to schedule your no-cost first legal consultation.

Geonetta & Frucht, LLP
By: Geonetta & Frucht, LLP