The Unruh Civil Rights Act
The Unruh Civil Rights Act (76), or Unruh Act, as discussed in the housing chapter of this publication, applies to all business establishments of every kind whatsoever which provide services, goods, or accommodations to the public. Businesses subject to the Unruh Act include bookstores, gymnasiums, shopping centers, mobile home parks, bars and restaurants, schools, medical and dental offices, hotels and motels, and condominium homeowners associations. (77) The Unruh Act prohibits all types of arbitrary discrimination, and not just discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability or medical condition. (78) The Unruh Act also prohibits discrimination based on personal characteristics, geographical origin, physical attributes, and individual beliefs. For example, the arbitrary exclusion of individuals from a restaurant based on their sexual orientation is prohibited. (79)
You can pursue an Unruh Act claim by filing a verified complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or a private lawsuit. If a business establishment is engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination, you can refer the matter to the Attorney General's Office or to your local district or city attorney. Please refer to the housing chapter of this publication for the procedures to follow and remedies available in redressing your claim for a public accommodation's violation of the Unruh Act.
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Protection Under California's Disabled Access Laws
In addition to the protections against arbitrary discrimination afforded to disabled individuals pursuant to the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the Legislature has enacted specific laws that protect the right of physically and mentally disabled individuals to obtain full and equal access to public accommodations, public transportation, telephone facilities, lodging, and entertainment. For a detailed analysis of the legal rights of disabled individuals, please refer to the Office of the Attorney General's publication, Legal Rights of Persons With Disabilities, Second Edition (1997).
Listed below are some of the key statutory provisions which prohibit discrimination by public accommodations against disabled individuals:
- Civil Code section 54 articulates California's public policy that disabled individuals have the same right as the general public to the full and free use of the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways, and public buildings, facilities, and places. This section defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major activities of the individual, a record of such impairment, or being regarded as having
such an impairment. A violation of the right of a disabled individual under the American
with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (80) also constitutes a violation of this section. Aggrieved persons may recover up to three times the actual damages or a minimum of $1,000, injunctive relief, and reasonable attorney's fees.
You can pursue a claim under this section by filing a complaint with the DFEH or a private
lawsuit. If you believe you have an ADA complaint, call (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383
(TDD) to obtain answers to general and technical questions about the ADA and to order
technical assistance materials. (81)
- Civil Code section 54.1 provides specific protections to disabled individuals in attaining full and equal access to all public accommodations and their advantages, facilities, and privileges; to places of public accommodation, amusement, or resort; and to other places to which the general public is invited, including public modes of transportation, private schools, hotels, hospitals, and public buildings. Aggrieved persons may recover up to three times the actual damages or a minimum of $1,000, injunctive relief, and reasonable attorney's fees.
You can pursue claim under this Section by filing a complaint with the DFEH, or a private
lawsuit. The Attorney General, the Department of Rehabilitation, or your district or city
attorney may bring an action to enjoin any violation of Civil Code section 54.1.
- Government Code section 4450 et seq. requires buildings and facilities remodeled after 1968 or built with state, county, or municipal funds to be accessible to the disabled and comply with accessibility standards adopted by the State Architect. (82) Complaints that facilities that are being maintained in violation of state disabled access laws should be filed with your local building department. Government Code section 4452, as interpreted by the Attorney General, (83) requires the local building department to reach a final resolution of a
complaint within 90 days of its filing. If violations are found, the building department must state how it will require the full compliance of the public accommodation or facility with California disabled access laws and regulations. Upon the request of the complainant, the Attorney General will review the local agency's final resolution of a complaint for abuse of discretion. If abuse of discretion is found, the Attorney General's Office will take action against the local building department, such as requesting it to reconsider its final resolution or by taking legal action against the local agency. The Attorney General or your district or city attorney may bring an action to enjoin any violation of Government Code section 4450 et seq.
- Government Code section 4500 et seq. requires that, in awarding contracts for operations, equipment, or structures, every state agency, board, and department, local governmental subdivision, district, public, and quasi-public corporation, local public agency and service corporation, and city, county, and municipal corporation, whether incorporated, chartered or not, must require that all fixed-route transit equipment and public transit structures be built so that disabled individuals have ready access to, from, and in such equipment and structures.
Further, all public transit facilities and operations must meet the standards of the ADA (84) and its regulations. (85) Where California law sets a higher standard than the ADA for public transit
facilities and operations, then those higher standards must be met.
- Health and Safety Code section 19955et seq. requires that places of public accommodation remodeled after July 1, 1970, or constructed with private funds must comply with accessibility standards adopted by the State Architect. See Government Code section 4450 et seq. for remedies.
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Protection Under California's Insurance Laws
Insurance companies are businesses and public accommodations subject to the provisions of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. (86) Thus, prospective and actual insureds subjected to arbitrary discrimination by insurance companies can pursue Unruh Act claims as described above. In addition, the Legislature has enacted specific laws prohibiting discriminatory practices which may occur in the insurance business. Listed below are some of the key statutory provisions which prohibit discrimination in the area of insurance. The Insurance Commissioner has the primary responsibility for enforcing these laws.
- Insurance Code section 679.71 makes it unlawful for an insurer to fail or refuse to accept an insurance application; to refuse to issue an insurance policy; to cancel insurance on conditions less favorable than those applied to all individuals in comparable cases; or to charge a higher rate or premium on the basis of a prospective or actual insured's marital status, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, or ancestry. This section does not apply to automobile or workers' compensation insurance policies.
- Insurance Code sections 679.72, 10141, and 10142 make it unlawful for an insurance policy application, investigation, or report used to determine insurance eligibility to carry or require the identification of an applicant's race, color, religion, national origin, or ancestry. These sections do not apply to automobile or workers' compensation insurance policies.
- Insurance Code section 790.10 authorizes the Insurance Commissioner to issue regulations interpreting the Insurance Code. Pursuant to this authorization, the Commissioner issued a regulation, section 2560.3 of Title 10 of the California Code of Regulations, which prohibits any person or entity engaged in the insurance business in California from refusing to issue; canceling; declining to renew; or restricting, modifying, or excluding the amount of benefits payable or the terms, conditions, or type of coverage on any insurance contract because of the sex, marital status, or sexual orientation of the insured or prospective insured.
- Insurance Code section 10123.2 requires that a self-insured employee welfare benefit plan providing coverage for hospital, medical, or surgical expenses must offer coverage to physically disabled individuals for expenses incurred under the same terms and conditions normally provided by the insurer to a non-physically disabled insured. Every self-insured welfare benefit plan shall communicate the availability of such coverage to all members and prospective members. However, the self-insured welfare benefit plan shall not be required to cover hospital, medical, or surgical expenses arising as a direct result of a physically disabled person's disability.
- Insurance Code sections 10123.3 and 10143 make it unlawful for any life or disability insurer or self-insured employee welfare benefit plan providing hospital, medical, or surgical coverage to refuse to issue, sell, or renew insurance to any person solely because the person carries a gene which may be associated with a disability in that person's offspring, but which causes no adverse effects on the carrier.
- Insurance Code section 10140 makes it unlawful for a life or disability insurer to fail or refuse to accept an insurance application from, to refuse to issue a policy to, or to charge a higher rate or premium to an individual or to cancel insurance on conditions less favorable than those applied to all individuals in comparable cases on the basis of the individual's race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, or genetic characteristic.
- Insurance Code section 10144 makes it unlawful for an insurer providing, issuing, or administering life, annuity, or disability insurance benefits to charge a different rate for the same coverage offered to others or to refuse to insure, refuse to continue to insure, or limit the coverage available to an individual solely because of his or her physical or mental impairment, unless the refusal, limitation, or rate differential is based upon sound actuarial principles or related to actual and reasonably anticipated experience.
- Insurance Code section 10144.1 requires disability insurers that provide hospital, medical, or surgical coverage which deny coverage to a terminally ill claimant for an experimental medical procedure or plan of treatment to provide written notification detailing the specific medical and scientific reasons for the denial, specific references to the policy provisions upon which the denial is based, a description of alternative medical procedures covered by the policy, and a description of the process available to appeal the denial of coverage or to review the information provided to the insured. The appeal of the insurer's denial of coverage or the review of the insured's information must occur within 30 days following the
receipt of the insured's request for review.
- Insurance Code sections 10144.2 and 10144.3 prohibit life and disability insurers covering hospital, medical, or surgical expenses to charge a different rate for the same coverage offered to others or to refuse to insure, refuse to continue to insure, or limit the coverage available to an individual on the basis that she or he is, has been, or may be a victim of domestic violence. Further, disability insurers are prohibited from considering as a medical
condition and a basis for underwriting coverage that an individual is, has been, or may be the subject of domestic violence.
- Insurance Code section 10145 makes it unlawful for insurers providing life, annuity, or disability benefits to charge a different rate for the same coverage offered to others or to refuse to insure, to refuse to continue to insure, or to limit the coverage available to an individual solely because of his or her blindness or partial blindness.
- Insurance Code sections 11628 and 11628.5 make it unlawful for motor vehicle liability insurers to refuse to insure, refuse to continue to insure, limit the coverage available to, or charge a different rate for the same coverage offered to others on the basis of an individual's race, language, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, or geographical area of residence.
- Insurance Code section 11628.7 prohibits motor vehicle liability insurers from discriminating against blind motor vehicles owners in the issuance of insurance and from charging a higher rate of insurance based upon the frequent change of drivers of the insured vehicle.
- Insurance Code section 12095 prohibits insurers issuing surety insurance from refusing to accept an application for a contractor's performance bond, refusing to issue such a bond to an applicant, canceling such a bond, or charging a different rate for the same coverage because of the applicant's race, color, gender, religion, national origin, ancestry, or geographical area of residence.
- Insurance Code sections 799.03, 799.05, 799.07, 799.10, and 799.20 prohibit life and disability insurers from testing applicants for HIV or the presence of HIV antibodies as a condition of insurance, unless the insurer obtains the applicant's written informed consent. Further, life and disability insurers are prohibited from considering the applicant's marital status or known or suspected homosexuality or bisexuality as a basis for determining whether to require that the applicant submit to an HIV antibody test. Any person whose rights are violated may apply to any court for appropriate equitable relief.
If an insurance company or a health or life insurance plan discriminates against you, you may file a complaint with the California Department of Insurance:
California Department of Insurance
Consumer Communications Bureau
300 South Spring Street, South Tower
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(800) 927 - HELP (4357) (Inside California)
(213) 897 - 8921 (Outside California & Los Angeles)
TDD: (800) 482 - 4833
If a health maintenance organization discriminates against you, you may file a complaint with the following:
State Department of Health Services, Medical Managed Care Division
Office of the Ombudsman
714 P Street, Room 650, P.O. Box 942732
Sacramento, CA 94234-7320
Telephone: (916) 654-8076
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Protection Against Discrimination by Persons Licensed to Render Services
Business and Professions Code section 125.6 provides that any person who holds a license pursuant to the Business and Professions Code (87) is subject to disciplinary action if that person discriminates in, restricts the performance of, or refuses to perform the licensed activity because of a consumer's race, color, sex, religion, ancestry, disability, marital status, or national origin.
In addition, Business and Professions Code section 726 bars the commission of any act of sexual abuse, misconduct, or relations with a patient, client, or customer constitutes unprofessional conduct and grounds for disciplinary action for persons holding certain professional licenses.
Moreover, Business and Professions Code section 23438 prohibits certain private clubs and
organizations which hold liquor licenses from discriminating against certain groups. It also provides that expenditures at restrictive clubs are not tax-deductible. (88)
If you believe you have been discriminated against by a state-licensed individual or entity, you should file a complaint with the state licensing board which regulates the profession, vocation, or business involved. For information regarding what board has jurisdiction over a particular licensee contact:
California Department of Consumer Affairs
401 R Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Telephone: (800) 952-5210
TDD: (916) 322-1700
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Protection Against Discrimination by Banking, Credit, and Lending Institutions
Financial institutions, such as banks, credit, and lending institutions, are subject to the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Unruh Act). The Unruh Act prohibits all types of arbitrary discriminatory practices by business establishments, including discrimination based upon sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, or disability. For example, a financial institution violates the Unruh Act if it denies you an automobile loan application solely because of your sexual orientation.
As explained in the housing chapter of this publication, you can remedy an Unruh Act violation through the DFEH or by filing a private lawsuit. If the financial institution's discriminatory actions amount to a pattern or practice, you may file a referral for possible action with the Attorney General's Office, or your local district or city attorney.
In addition to the Unruh Act, the Housing Financial Discrimination Act, also known as the Holden Act (HFDA), (89) prohibits financial institutions from discriminating in the provision or availability of financial assistance for housing accommodations on the basis, in whole or in part, of the applicant's race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, or ancestry. Further, financial institutions are prohibited from considering the racial, ethnic, religious, or national origin composition of a neighborhood or geographic area surrounding a particular housing accommodation to determine whether to extend or deny financial assistance, or to prescribe the terms and conditions of such financial assistance. (90)
Complaint of a financial institution's Holden Act violations may be filed with the California Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing, who must investigate Holden Act complaints and take remedial action as required by law. You may file complaints or inquiries regarding the Holden Act at the offices listed below.
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State-Licensed Savings and Loan Associations, State Licensed Savings Banks, State-Chartered Banks, and State Credit Unions
California Department of Financial Institutions
111 Pine Street, Suite 1100, San Francisco, CA 94111-5613
300 S. Spring Street, Suite 15513, Los Angeles, CA 90013-1204
801 K Street, Suite 2124, Sacramento, CA 95814
9609 Naples Street, Suite 100, San Diego, CA 92121
Telephone: (800) 622-0620
California Department of Real Estate
2201 Broadway, P. O. Box 187000
Sacramento, CA 95818
Telephone: (916) 227-0864
Institutions not listed above
California Department of Consumer Affairs
401 R Street
Sacramento CA 95814
Telephone: (800) 952-5210
TDD: (916) 322-1700
In addition to the Holden Act, it is unlawful under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) for any person, bank, mortgage company, or financial institution that provides financial assistance for housing accommodations to discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges related to obtaining or using financial assistance against any person because of his or her race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, or disability. To enforce your FEHA (91) rights, you should file a claim with the DFEH and follow the procedures outlined in the housing chapter of this publication.
Listed below are other statutory provisions which prohibit discrimination by financial institutions:
- Civil Code section 1812.30 et seq. makes it unlawful for lenders and credit sellers to discriminate against an applicant on the basis of his or her sex or marital status and gives a person the right not to be denied credit in his or her own name even if the person is married. Aggrieved persons may bring a private lawsuit against the lender or credit seller to recover actual and punitive damages, attorney's fees, costs, and injunctive relief to enjoin an ongoing or potential violation. A person may also notify the Attorney General, county counsel, district attorney, or city attorney about the violation.
- Civil Code section 1747.80 protects you from discrimination in the issuance of credit cards and prohibits credit card issuers from refusing to issue a credit card to any person solely because of that person's race, religion, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex. Aggrieved persons may bring a private lawsuit against the credit card issuer and recover actual damages and a $250 fine. In addition, the court may order the card issuer to issue you a credit card on the same terms that are normally required for other individuals.
- The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), 15 U.S.C. §1691 et seq. makes it unlawful for a creditor to discriminate against any applicant in any aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of the applicant's race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age. Aggrieved persons may file a complaint with the federal agency enforcing the ECOA for the particular class of creditor. (92) Below is a listing of federal agencies which regulate federal financial institutions.
Complaints against National Banks
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Customer Assistance Group
1301 McKenney Street, Suite 3750
Houston, Texas 77010
Telephone: (800) 613-6743
TDD: (415) 545-5976
Complaints against Federally Charted Savings and Loan Associations
Office of Thrift Supervision
P.O. Box 7165
San Francisco, CA 94120
Telephone: (800) 842-6929 or (650) 746-7000
Complaints against Federal Credit Unions
National Credit Union Administration
2300 Claxton Road, Suite 1350
Concord, CA 94520
Telephone: (925) 363-6200
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Miscellaneous State Statutes Dealing with Discrimination in Public Accommodations, Businesses, and Services
Other statutes deal with discrimination in the areas of business, services, and public accommodations and include the following:
- Business and Professions Code section 7071.14 prohibits the denial of a contractor's license bond solely on the basis of the applicant's or licensee's race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex. The penalty for such discrimination is actual damages plus $250.
- Business and Professions Code sections 16721 and 16721.5 make it unlawful to exclude a person from entering into a business transaction or from pursuing a business, profession, vocation, or employment. It also makes it unlawful to discriminate in the transfer of funds or credit on the basis of sex, race, religion, color, or national or ethnic origin. Such discrimination violates the Cartwright Act, California's antitrust law. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 16700 et seq.) Aggrieved persons may file a private lawsuit and recover triple damages, injunctive relief, and reasonable attorney's fees.
- Civil Code section 51.5 prohibits business establishments from discriminating against, boycotting, blacklisting, or refusing to buy from, sell to, contract with, or trade with a person because of the actual or perceived race, creed, religion, color, national origin, sex, or disability of that person; the person's partners, members, stockholders, directors, officers, managers, superintendents, agents, employees, business associates, suppliers, or customers;
or because of that person's association with a person who has or is perceived to have any of these characteristics. A person, as defined in this section, is a person, firm, association, organization, partnership, business trust, corporation, limited liability company, or company.
- Civil Code section 51.6, the Gender Tax Repeal Act of 1995, prohibits business establishments from discriminating in the price charged for similar or like services against a person because of the person's gender.
- Civil Code section 51.8 prohibits franchisors from discriminating in the granting of franchises solely because of the race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability of the franchisee, and the racial, ethnic, religious, national origin, or disability composition of a neighborhood or geographic area where the franchise would be located.
- Civil Code section 51.9 prohibits an individual who enters into a business, service, or professional relationship with a client, patient, tenant, or student (or a substantially similar type of relationship) from making pervasive or severe unwelcome sexual advances, solicitations, sexual requests, or demands for sexual compliance, or from engaging in conduct of a sexual or hostile nature based on gender.
- Civil Code section 80 et seq., the California Fair Dealership Law, prohibits a grantor who sells, leases or transfers a dealership granting rights to distribute goods or services or to use a trade name, trademark, or other commercial symbol from refusing to grant, renew or transfer a dealership to any person because of that person's race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, or sex.
- Civil Code section 798.20 prohibits a person from being denied membership in any private club or organization on the basis of that person's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, or marital status, when such membership is a condition for tenancy in a mobile home park.
- Government Code section 11135 prohibits any program or activity funded by or receiving financial assistance from the State from discriminating againstor unlawfully denying benefits to a person on the basis of that person's ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, color, or disability.
- Government Code section 12948 makes it an unlawful practice under the FEHA (93) for a person to deny or to aid, incite, or conspire in the denial of the rights created by the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Civil Code section 51, and the rights protected by Civil Code sections 51.5, 51.7, 54, 54.1, or 54.2.
- Government Code sections 54091 and 54092 prohibit cities, counties and other local agencies which own, operate, or control any public beach or property providing access to it from discriminating against a person by preventing that person's use of the beach on the basis of that person's color, race, religion, ancestry, sex, national origin, or residence.
- Government Code section 54961 prohibits all local agencies from conducting meetings, conferences, or other functions in any facility that is inaccessible to a disabled person or that prohibits the admittance of any person on the basis of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex.
- Health and Safety Code sections 33435, 33436, and 33724 require that the owners, leasees, and purchasers of real property acquired or improved as part of a redevelopment agency project to rent, sell, or lease the property without discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, marital status, ancestry, or national origin.
- Health and Safety Code section 33769 requires that all contracts, subcontracts, and employment for residential construction financed by a publicly-financed redevelopment plan be offered and awarded without discriminating as to race, sex, martial status, color, religion, race, national origin, or ancestry.
- Public Resources Code section 5080.34 prohibits parties contracting for a concession on a state park, monument, or public land to discriminate against any person because of the race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, or ancestry of that person.
- Public Resources Code section 5162 requires any beach or seashore recreation area owned, leased, operated, controlled, maintained, or managed by a city or county that is open to the use of local, city, or county residents to be accessible to all members of the public upon the same terms, fees, charges, and conditions.
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