Business Establishments

Equal access to businesses is protected

California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act protects those with the characteristics listed in the box “Who is protected?” from discrimination or harassment by business establishments. This law requires both public and private businesses to provide individuals “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services.” It applies to housing and public accommodations as well as to establishments such as stores, restaurants, barber shops, among others.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces the Unruh Act and the state’s other anti-discrimination laws and has several responsibilities:

  • Investigate discrimination and harassment complaints
  • Encourage and assist the voluntary resolution of complaints
  • Prosecute violations of the law
  • Educate the public about discrimination and how to avoid it

Filing a complaint

If you feel you have been discriminated against by a business establishment or housing provider, you can file a discrimination complaint with the DFEH. The complaint process starts with filling out and filing a form titled “pre-complaint inquiry.” In general, you must submit this form within one year of the last incident of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

That sets in motion a series of legally required steps that DFEH must carefully follow. It’s important to know that DFEH doesn’t take sides when a complaint is first filed. We investigate the facts and encourage parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases.  DFEH considers taking legal action if evidence supports a finding of discrimination and the dispute is not resolved.

Full step-by-step description of the complaint process

Flowchart of the complaint process

Filing your own lawsuit in court

In discrimination cases involving business establishments, an individual has the right to file a lawsuit on his/her own behalf within two years of the alleged discriminatory act. It is not necessary to file a complaint with DFEH before filing a lawsuit or to get a “right-to-sue” letter

What remedies are available?

State law provides for a variety of remedies for victims of discrimination, including:

  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Cease and desist orders
  • Damages for emotional distress
  • Punitive damages
  • Statutory damages
  • Attorney’s fees and costs

Respond to a complaint

If you are served with a complaint, you must provide a response within 30 days unless granted an extension. DFEH may interview you and ask for additional records or documents.

It is important to know that DFEH doesn’t take sides when a complaint is first filed. DFEH screens all initial claims and rejects those that do not allege violations of the laws we enforce.

We investigate the facts and encourage parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases.  DFEH considers taking legal action if evidence supports a finding of discrimination and the dispute is not resolved.

Details on how to respond.

Who is protected?

California law protects individuals from illegal discrimination by a business establishment based on the following:

  • Race, color
  • Ancestry, national origin
  • Religion
  • Primary language
  • Citizenship, immigration status
  • Disability, mental or physical
  • Sex, gender (including pregnancy)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status

Business establishments

  • Hotels and motels
  • Restaurants
  • Theaters
  • Bars and nightclubs
  • Retail stores
  • Golf courses
  • Fitness clubs or gyms
  • Hospitals
  • Barber and beauty shops
  • Housing accommodations
  • Public agencies
  • Non-profit organizations (open to the public)

Disability requirements

For details on how business establishments are required to accommodate those with disabilities, click here.

Resources

DFEH provides multiple resources for anyone needing more information on California’s laws against discrimination in the business establishments.