Under what circumstance can a business legally refuse service to a certain people?

I was wondering if it is possible to open a B&B, but make it private. If you want to refuse service to certain types of people, how could you do it legally? Would it work to state on the website that say you only cater to married people, or single people, but not unmarried couples or homosexuals? Or would the best route be to start a private club that only admits the kind of people you want? How can you legally refuse service?

Asked on December 21, 2010 under Business Law, Pennsylvania


MD, Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Private associations located on private property can limit the types of membership it allows (i.e. demographics, gender, age, etc) as long as it is not opening itself to the public. Think exclusive clubs for sports.  However, many courts have ruled that the same does not apply to hotels and restaurants, who do actively open themselves to the public.  A bed and breakfast can be seen as a melding of the two and probably won't allow you to simply discriminate (limit) because you choose to do so. Consult with an attorney who handles such matters for others (constitutional law lawyer or civil rights attorney).  Through consultation, you may find the exact answer for your state.

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