What is the Unruh Civil Rights Act?
The Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code sections 51 through
51.3, provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments
in California, including housing and public accommodations. California
Civil Code section 51(b) describes the protections found under the Unruh
Civil Rights Act:
All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language, or immigration status are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever. Civil Code section 51(b)
Who is Protected?
The language of the Unruh Civil Rights Act (see above) specifically outlaws
discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on sex, race,
color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition.
While the Unruh Civil Rights Act specifically lists “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, or sexual orientation” as protected
classes, the California Supreme Court has held that protections under the
Unruh Act are not necessarily restricted to these characteristics.
The Act is meant to cover all arbitrary and intentional discrimination by a
business establishment on the basis of personal characteristics similar to
those listed above.
What Businesses Are Covered?
This law requires “Full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities,
privileges or services in all business establishments.” This includes but is not
• Hotels and Motels
• Non-Profit Organizations
• Barber and Beauty Shops
• Housing Accommodations
• Public Agencies
• Retail Establishments
What Remedies are Available for Victims of Discrimination?
This law provides for a variety of remedies that may include:
• Out-Of-Pocket Expenses
• Cease and Desist Orders
• Damages for Emotional Distress
• Exemplary Damages
Court-ordered damages may include a maximum of three times the amount of the
victim’s actual damages.