After settling their bill for breakfast at a Texas restaurant, a gay couple said the waitress decided to give them a tip of her own.
"We don't serve f--s here," the waitress told the couple, reports KRLD NewsRadio, before telling them never to return.
Can a business refuse to serve gay people?
Big Earl's Bait House
The restaurant, Big Earl's Bait House and Country Store in Pittsburgh, Texas (where a sign on the front door reads, "Welcome to Big Earl's where men act like men, women act like ladies"), is owned by Earl Cheney. And it just so happens that the waitress who allegedly told the couple to take a hike is Big Earl's daughter.
Earl told KRLD that he has no plans to discipline his daughter and stands by her statement. Though probably not a very prudent business decision, is Earl's policy to refuse service to gay people within his rights as a business owner?
Federal Anti-Discrimination Law
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, private businesses such as restaurants are considered "places of public accommodation" and are thus subject to the act's prohibition on discrimination.
However, the Act only prohibits discrimination on the basis of color, race, religion, or national origin, and says nothing about sexual orientation.
State, Local Anti-Discrimination Laws
To fill this gap in the federal law, many states such as New York have passed their own laws outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. And even within states that haven't passed such laws, such as Texas, individual cities such as Houston have extended equal rights protections to gays and lesbians.
In the absence of a state or local law forbidding it, however, private business owners are generally free to refuse to serve gay people. So while the waitress' alleged use of the "f-word" may not have been "ladylike," it seems Big Earl's Bait House likely won't be on the hook for any alleged discrimination.
If you have questions about your rights to refuse service to customers, you'll want to contact a local business attorney to make sure you're on the right side of the law.
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