State Court Holds Public School District is not “Business Establishment” Subject to Liability under Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Student brought an action against public school district alleging disability discrimination under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The trial court sustained the district’s demurrer on the grounds that the school district was not a “business establishment” subject to the Act. Student petitioned for writ of mandate.
Petition denied. The Court examined the legislative history of the Unruh Act and California Supreme Court decisions, finding that that public accommodation laws remain directed at private, rather than state conduct. The Court reasoned that public school districts act as the state’s agent in delivering constitutionally mandated, free primary and secondary education to the state’s school age children, as a public servant not as a commercial enterprise. Thus, the court held that public school districts were not business establishments under the Unruh Act and denied the petition seeking to overturn the trial court’s order.
This is the first published California appellate opinion holding that public school districts are not subject to the Unruh Civil Rights Act. We await whether the California Supreme court will review the case, but it should be noted that the First Appellate District’s analysis is extensive and well-reasoned, and should be relied upon to have Unruh claims dismissed against our public school district clients.