October 14, 2015
WEST PALM BEACH–At Tuesday evening’s meeting of the West Palm Beach
City Commissioners, they voted unanimously to expand the civil rights of
minorities and women by amending the definition of “public
accommodations” to include retail stores, schools, day care and senior
centers, medical offices, funeral homes, bakeries, laundromats and
virtually all other places of business within city limits. The County
Commission unanimously adopted the same definition last month.
Both actions were taken at the request of the Palm Beach County
Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), the County’s most prolific civil rights
organization. Over the past twenty-five years, PBCHRC has succeeded in
having local public officials enact more than 95 antidiscrimination laws
“When the local civil rights ordinances were (originally) enacted
decades ago, elected officials focused only on those places where
discrimination was most blatant – hotels, restaurants, bars and movie
theaters,” said Rand Hoch, PBCHRC’s President and Founder.
“Unfortunately, discrimination is more widespread. Initially, our goal
was to address consumer racism,” said Hoch, a retired judge.
The experience of people of color being refused service or given poor
service – known as “shopping while Black” – is not uncommon. Black
customers are also frequently followed by store clerks, wrongly
detained, steered away from certain products, and asked for additional
forms of identification regarding credit applications.
“Allowing businesses to choose their clients based on prejudice
deprives Americans of the freedom to walk into businesses that appear to
be open to the general public and be treated equally,” said West Palm
Beach City Commission President Sylvia Moffett. “If you hang out a
shingle and get a license to do business, you should be required to
provide the same service to all consumers.”
Lesbian and gay couples are also targets of public accommodation discrimination.
Since same-sex marriage has become legal, a handful of companies in
the wedding industry in Colorado, Indiana, New Jersey, New Mexico,
Oregon, Vermont and Washington have refused to provide services to gay
and lesbian couples.
“Across America, gay and lesbian couples planning their weddings are
now being refused service solely because of their sexual orientation,”
said Hoch. “Under our new local ordinances, if a baker refuses to
provide a cake for a gay couple’s wedding, he may be required to defend
his discriminatory practices in court.”
While a majority of states have long prohibited discrimination of any
kind in retail establishments, Florida is not one of them. Therefore,
the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has asked State Senator
Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington) to include the expanded definition of
public accommodations in Senate Bill 120, a statewide civil rights bill
he is sponsoring in the 2016 legislative session.