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

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

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.


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