Business establishments / Public accommodations FAQs

What can people do if they are denied service by a business establishment because of their race, sex, religion, or any other category protected under the Unruh Civil Rights Act?

People who believe they have been discriminated against in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act may file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or they may file a private lawsuit.

Start by filing a “Pre-Complaint Inquiry.” You can find that form using any of the following methods:

  • Use the Department’s online system, which is called Houdini. When you begin, you will see instructions how to open a free account. From then on you can use the service to communicate with DFEH.
  • Call the Communication Center at 800-884-1684 (voice). If you are deaf or hard of hearing, please call 800-884-1684 (voice or 711 relay operator) or 800-700-2320 (TTY)
  • Print and fill out a hard copy of the “Pre-Complaint Inquiry” form that matches your issue and send it:
Is there a time limit for filing an Unruh discrimination complaint with the Department?

Yes. All Unruh Civil Rights Act complaints must be filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing within one year of the discriminatory act. But an individual may file a private lawsuit without first filing a complaint with the Department. Private lawsuits must be filed within two years of the discriminatory act.

Can businesses charge men and women different prices for the same services?

No. The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits gender discrimination by businesses in their pricing practices. For example, a dry-cleaner business cannot charge more to clean a woman’s blouse than a man’s shirt when the two items are similar in detail; or a hair stylist cannot charge more to trim a woman’s hair than a man’s when the hair is similar in length

Can a business have a “ladies night” promotion where only women get a discount or free service?

No. The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits offering promotions or discounts based on sex or gender.

Can a business have separate spaces for men and women?

Except for separate bathrooms, locker rooms or other areas where people are unclothed such as a spa, a business that is open to the public cannot have separate spaces for men and women. For example, a gym cannot have a “women only” or “men only” exercise room.

Can a business exclude men or women?

No. A business establishment that would otherwise be completely open to the public cannot exclude people because of their sex. Excluding one sex from the premises even for limited times also violates the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

Can a restaurant or hotel deny service to individuals because of their sexual orientation?

No. The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation by all business establishments in California.