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Discrimination in Public Places 

Public places cannot discriminate against you because of your race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. 
 
Public places are entities that provide goods, services, or facilities to the public such as a gas station, retail store, or coffee shop. 
 
Public places are referred to as public accommodations in the Minnesota Human Rights Act. 
 
Public places cannot refuse to provide goods or services to certain individuals, deny certain individuals the full and equal enjoyment of goods or services, or refuse to reasonably accommodate an individual with a disability who is accompanied by a service animal because of a protected class.

Examples

  • A retail store refuses to make a simple and inexpensive adjustment that would make its entrance accessible for people who use wheel chairs.
  • A store security guard always searches people who "look Mexican" but does not search people who do not "look Mexican."
  • A bar or restaurant objects to noisy or boisterous behavior by customers of a certain race or ethnicity, while tolerating or ignoring the same behavior by customers of a different race or ethnicity.
  • A movie theater owner refuses to sell tickets to a couple that they think is gay.
  • A business offering wedding planning services refuses to serve a gay couple because the business owner does not believe in same-sex marriage.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the difference between a public service and a public place?

A public service is owned, operated or managed by or on behalf of the state of Minnesota, or a county, city, town, or another unit of government. Public services include school districts, police departments, and all programs and services provided by state and local units of government. 
 
A public place (public accommodation) means a business, accommodation, refreshment, entertainment, recreation, or transportation facility of any kind, whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations are extended, offered, sold, or otherwise made available to the public. Examples include restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, stores of any kind, and privately owned transportation services.
 

Can public places, such a bars and restaurants, have dress codes for their customers?

Generally, yes. However, if such dress codes have the effect of discriminating against members of a protected class, there may be a violation of the Human Rights Act. For example, if an individual's religion requires him or her to dress in a certain manner, a place of public accommodation may be required to accommodate that individual, despite its dress code.
 

Do all public places have to be accessible to people who use wheelchairs or have other disabilities?

A public place must take all necessary steps to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated; unless the entity can demonstrate that taking the steps would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or the cost of the accommodation would result in an undue burden.
 

Public places sometimes say, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." Is that legal?

A public place cannot refuse service for a reason that would constitute illegal discrimination. Under the Human Rights Act, no one can be refused service by a public accommodation because of their race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, or sexual orientation.
 

Can a public place refuse to accept my check, if it accepts checks from other customers?

Not if your protected class status is the reason your check is being refused. However, a business might decide to accept a check from one customer, and not from another, for other, nondiscriminatory reasons. Some businesses might choose to accept checks only from customers who live nearby, for example. Such a policy would not necessarily violate the Human Rights Act.
 

Can a business owner refuse to provide services to me for my same-sex wedding?

No. Denying commercial activity or refusing to enter into a commercial contract with someone on the basis of their sexual orientation has been against the law in Minnesota for more than 20 years under the Minnesota Human Rights Act. A business that provides wedding services such as cake decorating, wedding planning or services may not deny its services to a same-sex couple. Individuals denied any of the above services can file a charge with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
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