Here are a few stats you should know about California’s Unruh Act and the businesses in the region:
- The Unruh Civil Rights Act is a law imposed with the goal of indiscriminate equality.
- In recent years, there have been a lot of talks regarding the act and its relevance with different sectors, and
- If you are a business in California, having adequate knowledge of the Unruh Act is a must.
What is California’s Unruh Act?
The Unruh Civil Rights Act (California Civil Code Section 51) provides protection from discrimination by all business establishments in California.
The Act was enacted in 1959, long before the introduction of ADA, and has been in action since then. The Unruh Act applies to both housing and public accommodations. It makes sure that all business establishments in California, whether it is public or government comply with its standards. They cannot discriminate on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation. If any business is found to be violating the law, they will face hefty fines and even legal punishments.
Under the Unruh Act, plaintiffs are allowed to sue for monetary damages up to a cost of $4,000 per offense. Unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Unruh Act is favorable to plaintiffs with disabilities and disability advocate groups.
Businesses that need to comply with the Unruh Act of California
The Unruh Act requires businesses to provide full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and services in all fields. This includes the following industries:
- Hotels and Motels
- Hospitals (both Government and Private)
- Barber shops and beauty salons
- Public agencies
- Retail establishments
- Housing accommodations – including shared economy housing and rental housing
- Non-profit organizations with business purposes
Here, you need to note that the Act’s effect is not limited to the listed businesses only. You should consult a professional law expert to know more about the business categories included under the Act. Or, you can also read the official law statement to read more about it.
The Unruh Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act
There are some common features to the Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Both these acts focus on eliminating discrimination in business.
- People with disabilities in California have greatly benefitted from these two Acts.
- Both these acts push businesses to be more accessible for everyone.
But if you know about these acts more closely, you will find that there are significant differences between these. Some of the main differences include;
- The Unruh Act allows the defendants to ask for monetary losses while the ADA allows them to seek legal expenses.
- The ADA only focuses on providing accessibility to people with disabilities while the Unruh Act seek equality for all.
- The ADA applies for all businesses in the United States and not just in California. On the other hand, the Unruh Act is valid in for California businesses.
As a verdict, the ADA can be considered a part of the Unruh Act. The Supreme Court of California states that any violations of the ADA violates the Unruh Act too. The court also stated that internet content falls under the mandate of the ADA. However, one must remember that every violation of the Unruh Act cannot be considered a violation of the ADA.
WCAG and the Unruh Civil Rights Act
Just like the ADA, the Unruh Civil Rights Act was established way long before the emergence of the internet. And because of this fact, California Civil Code Section 51 does not ask for technical requirements for digital accessibility.
Many lawsuits filed under the Unruh Act in the past few years, cite the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) also.
As we know, WCAG is considered the international standard for digital accessibility and is widely accepted. Websites that comply with WCAG-level AA standards are generally considered well-accessible sites for most users with disabilities.
While WCAG specifically applies to ADA, plaintiffs of the Unruh Act often refer to its violations as evidence. Examples of such cases include Thurston Vs. Midvale Corporation and the well-popular Robles Vs. Domino’s Pizza LLC.
The violation of the Unruh Act and its consequences
Any kind of discrimination by any business establishment can be considered a violation of the Unruh Act. As we have mentioned above, any violation of the ADA act is a violation of the Unruh Act too.
Here are a few examples that will help you to understand Unruh Act violations:
- A hotel charges $70 as a service fee only to a particular race of customers and not to other races.
- A doctor refuses to check on a patient with blood cancer or HIV.
- A clothing shop does not welcome black people and sells only to people with fair skins.
- A restaurant refuses to book seats for a lesbian couple or a couple of same-sex but books them for others.
- People with visual impairments are not allowed to access a certain website that is accessible to others.
- A hair salon charges different rates for men, women, and children and provides different services too.
- A public bar offers huge discounts for ladies on weekend nights but not to men.
Any discrimination, either knowingly or unknowingly, by a business falls under the violation of the Unruh Act.
But what if the Unruh Act is violated? What are the consequences you need to go through as a business owner?
Consequences for violating California’s Unruh Act
Violations of the Unruh Act is considered legal crime and businesses can be legally fined for doing this. Unlike the ADA, the Unruh Act makes sure that they get coverage for monetary losses too.
Businesses accused of violations, if guilty, may have to pay monetary expenses up to $4,000 along with legal expenses.
Apart from economic damages, the businesses guilty of the violation also suffer from public criticism. They start to lose their customers to their competitors and suffer irreparable damage to their reputation.
How to comply with the Unruh Act as a California-based business?
Businesses in California or any new businesses have to comply with the Unruh Act.
In an honest opinion, making your business compliant with the Unruh Act is not so difficult or tricky. Businesses have to be aware of WCAG guidelines or the ADA standards, so they comply with the Unruh Act.
Here are a few steps to make your business compliant with the Unruh Act:
Step 1. Provide equal services to all
The Unruh Act requires businesses to provide equal services to all its customers. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.
These services can include;
- Welcoming the customers
- Discounts offered
- Shop accessibility, and
- Modes of communications
Step 2. Make your business website accessible to all
Businesses have to make their website accessible to all, including people with disabilities.
There are a few ways of making your website accessible. This includes;
- Using anchor texts in your web content (articles, blogs, or posts)
- Use of images and other multimedia elements for better accessibility
- Making your website compatible with screen-readers
- Use of heading and subheading for better structure of your content pieces, and
- Using short and clear sentences for better readability of your web content
To know more about how to make your website digitally accessible, you can read our previous posts.
Step 3. Keep a check on your compliance
Businesses have to keep themselves regularly updated on any new amendments in the law or any accessibility issues on their website.
Not doing so, may invite lawsuits, legal fees, penalties and
Making your business Unruh-compliant is quite easy. Businesses should not discriminate among its customers, and follow WCAG guidelines.
California’s Unruh Act: Is it good for your business?
The Unruh Act exists to eliminate any type of discrimination in business. As a business owner, it might be a bit difficult to handle but is also very beneficial.
The Unruh Act not only allows your business to target more customers but build a more positive brand reputation.
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