Can You Legally Refuse To Serve Your Customers


Every once in a while a story emerges where a private business refuses to serve customers because of ethnic or religious beliefs. Inevitably, a firestorm emerges and the debate starts on whether or not a private business can refuse to do business with certain customers. One of the big problems with that debate is that the public never gets a straight answer to that question. So we ask, can a business legally refuse to serve a customer for any reason?

The Right to Refuse Service

Even though a business has private ownership, it is subject to any discrimination laws because it is doing business with the public. This means that the idea that a privately-owned business can serve whomever it wants is completely false. Sometimes the waters become murky when the federal discrimination laws conflict with certain laws in certain states that allow businesses to refuse service on the basis of religious beliefs. In these cases, federal law always trumps state law, but these cases can get messy.


A privately-owned business may not discriminate against any prospective customer based on religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and any other criteria listed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It does not matter what your state laws say or your church says, it is never legal to refuse service to someone because you do not share their religious beliefs. The same can be said for sexual orientation, gender, and race. Anyone who is refused service for reasons that fall under the Civil Right Act of 1964 can sue that business in civil court. As we have seen in some popular cases, the plaintiffs will usually win.

A Danger Or Disruption To Others

Gender, sexual orientation, race, and religion are not the only reasons that businesses deny service to customers. A customer who is harassing other customers, proves to be a danger to others within the business, or is intoxicated or otherwise impaired by substances when they show up to a business can usually expect to get thrown out. However, even though those customers posed a threat to others within the business, it is still possible that the ejected customer could choose to sue the business at some point.

Gathering Information

It is a bit intimidating to think that a drunken person could come into a business, threaten patrons, be thrown out of the business, and still sue the business. That is why it is a good idea for businesses to invest in the right equipment and processes to defend themselves.

Security cameras are a must for any business these days, if for no other reason than to capture the reason why a customer was denied service. If a customer is denied service, an employee should fill out a report and have that report signed by a manager to indicate the business’ side of the story. If possible, the business should call the police and ask the police to remove a customer so that there is an official police report created.

Businesses don’t want to throw out or not serve customers, but it does sometimes happen. If you feel that you are going to make a stand for your religious beliefs by refusing service to a customer, then be prepared for a lawsuit. But no matter what happens, you should always completely document any incident where you refused service or had a customer removed from your business to back up your side of the story.