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Discrimination in Public Accommodations



In general, public accommodations discrimination happens when someone is denied access to the facilities or services of a business or other public place, including local and state government.  It may happen when services are denied outright, such as when someone is refused admission. It may also happen when they are denied the same service others receive; for example, if they are charged a different price or offered less service. 

It may also be illegal discrimination when a physical barrier or other issue makes services inaccessible to someone who has a physical disability.  

Who is protected?
For the denial of services to be illegal discrimination, it must be based on someone’s race; color; sex; ancestry; national origin; religious creed; handicap or disability; the use, handling or training of a guide or support animal for disability; or relationship to a person with a disability.

It is important to know that it is also illegal to discriminate against someone because they have opposed illegal discrimination, filed a complaint, or assisted in an investigation.  This is called retaliation, and the law protects those who oppose illegal behavior.

Discrimination based on other factors may be unfair or unethical, but not specifically prohibited by law. 

Examples

Here are just a few situations that may be illegal discrimination in public accommodations:

  • a restaurant owner refuses to serve a customer wearing religious headgear
  • a delivery service will not to deliver to a largely minority neighborhood, but serves surrounding non-minority neighborhoods
  • a bus driver refuses to allow a minority person on the bus
  • a municipality will not provide handicapped-accessible parking to residents with disabilities
  • a university does not provide a wheelchair accessible entrance to a classroom building
  • a "private membership" club solicits members from the general public, but denies admission based on race or religion

*Remember that to be illegal, such treatment must be based on characteristics listed above these examples. 

What is a public accommodation?
PA anti-discrimination laws specifically define the terms “public accommodations”, “disabilities” and “accessibility” and may differ from other definitions of these terms.  For example, a private club may fall under the legal definition of public accommodation and “disability” is not limited to those receiving government disability benefits.  See our definitions page for specific definitions of these terms.

How can I learn more about accessibility?
PHRC staff members work with business and property owners, architects and others to help them find ways of making their facilities accessible to people with disabilities, whether they are new construction, existing buildings or historic properties.  Find out more about accessibility training and education for your business or group.