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Public Accommodations FAQs

What are protected classes for public accommodations? 

The Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, a disability, or their sexual orientation, including gender identity. This means that it is generally an unfair discriminatory practice for such an establishment to limit access, refuse service, or treat an individual differently because of one of these reasons. Equal access to public accommodations is a key part of our shared public life and ensuring that there is not discrimination is an issue of broad societal concern.

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

A public service is owned, operated or managed by or on behalf of the state of Minnesota, or a county, city, town, or other 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 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 accommodations, 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 accommodations have to be accessible to people who use wheelchairs or have other disabilities?

A public accommodation 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 accommodations sometimes say, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." Is that legal?

A public accommodation 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, a disability, or their sexual orientation.

Can a public accommodation 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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