Proof of Residency is Not Required to Eat Out

Are you required to show identification before sitting down for lunch?  If you’re ordering alcohol, sure.  But what if you were asked to show proof of legal residency?  Brenda Carrillo and a friend sat down at the Saint Marc Pub-Café, an upscale eatery in Huntington Beach, when a waiter asked:

“Can I see your proof of residency?”

When the patrons repeated the question back to the waiter in disbelief, the waiter responded with:

“I need to make sure you’re from here before I serve you.”

Is this legal?  After complaints to the manager, the patrons were offered to be re-seated, but declined and left the restaurant.  Castillo commented that she had never felt so judged in her entire life.

Proof of ResidencyNo Shoes, No Service

You know those signs that read, “We reserve the right to refuse service” or “No shoes, no service”?  Can a restaurant really refuse service to whoever they want?  The short answer is no.  After Trump’s inauguration, it seems some feel emboldened to start showing their prejudices and, despite the waiters cruel and discriminatory intent, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to hear these types of stories popping up across the country.

When is a restaurant justified to legally refuse service then?  For starters, a restaurant can never refuse service based on discrimination.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating based on race, color, religion or national origin.  Although a restaurant is considered private property, it’s still considered a place of public accommodation—equal protection laws still apply.

There aren’t necessarily a set of circumstances that would warrant a legal right to refuse service but, as a general rule of thumb, restaurants can refuse service if a guest puts the health, safety, or welfare of the establishment, or other guests, at risk.  That doesn’t help much, does it?  Certainly not an exhaustive list, but here are a few instances when a restaurant could legally refuse service:

  • When a guest is acting unreasonably rowdy or threatening other patrons,
  • When a guest doesn’t meet the company’s health requirements (think lacking adequate hygiene),
  • When a guest breaks lawful rules such as no-pet policies,
  • When the establishment has met capacity limits, or
  • When the establishment is getting ready to close.

Have you ever seen those signs that say ‘dress shirt and tie required’?  A restaurant can even refuse service if a guest doesn’t meet their clothing requirements., but refusing to serve a patron based on residency is not an acceptable reason because it’s a form of discrimination that the Civil Rights Act strictly prohibits.

I.D. Required Only in Limited Circumstances

The waiter had no right to ask the guests for identification.  When is proof of residency required?  One of the most obvious instances is obtaining a driver’s license or showing proof of citizenship to get a U.S. passport.  Many jobs require proof that you’re legally eligible to work in the U.S. and laws requiring a person suspected of a crime to show identification are legal as well.

The restaurant contacted Carillo with an apology after the story showed up on social media accounts.  The restaurant’s manager confirmed the behavior was not within company standards and the waiter was ultimately fired.  When the restaurant offered to host Carillo and her friends as “VIP guests,” Carillo and her friends declined the offer but, instead, asked Saint Marc Pub-Café to donate 10% of the weekend’s sales to an organization that advocates for immigrants living in the country illegally.

Did the patrons have another option?  They certainly could have brought a discrimination suit against the restaurant. Certain types of discrimination and civil rights violation allegations require a person file a claim or complaint with a federal or state agency before a lawsuit is brought, but Carillo likely would have had no problem getting the go-ahead to file a lawsuit.  At that point, it would have been up to Carillo to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” (that it’s more likely than not that the allegations are true) that the restaurant discriminated against her.

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