Would a private business that only intends to serve one sex or another be in violation of anti-discrimination law? if so which one?

I can think of a handful of examples of businesses that cater to clients of one sex or another:

  • Men's barbershops
  • Gynecologists
  • Women's Gyms
  • Single-sex sports clubs

I assumed that these types of consumer discrimination would be illegal under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 but it doesn't include anything about sex

no business serving the public, even if it's privately owned, can discriminate because of a customer's national origin, religion, color, or race.

Understandably, there are employment protections against such discrimination but are there the same protections for consumers?

  • 2
    Three of your examples would provide no useful service to its clients. Would you mind if I improved the question with better examples? Dec 11, 2020 at 13:06
  • Of all the listed examples above, only the second actually legally discriminates as those doctors specilize in health related to a specific area of the body that only female sexed individuals have (I'm being extremely general for space with this). The other three are not allowed to refuese opposite gender access to their services, but do note that they are specifically marketing to one sex and you'd have better experiences at another establishment. Ain't no rule that says customers can't discriminate against services that don't cater to them (hell, that's a basic tenent of capitalism).
    – hszmv
    Dec 11, 2020 at 13:08
  • @Studoku My examples aren't the best. if you can do better, you are welcome to. but leave the first one because there has already been an answer given on it. Dec 11, 2020 at 13:10
  • I fail to see why a phenotypic man would need to be admitted to a Gynecologist. Just like I fail to see how a phenotypic woman would need to be admitted to a Urologist. These doctors treat ailments that are so specific to one sex or another, that there is little to no reason why someone of the other gender would consult them.
    – Trish
    Dec 11, 2020 at 19:28
  • Grindr comes to mind. Dec 13, 2020 at 19:26

2 Answers 2


You are correct that the federal law does not prohibit sex discrimination in "public accommodations", the category that includes your examples. State laws tend to be more restrictive, see for example Washington's RCW 49.60.215 which declares that

It shall be an unfair practice for any person ... to commit an act which ... results in any distinction ... except for conditions and limitations established by law and applicable to all persons, regardless of race, creed... sexual orientation, sex... PROVIDED, That behavior or actions constituting a risk to property or other persons can be grounds for refusal and shall not constitute an unfair practice.

The definitions allow for a few exceptions as to what kind of place is so restricted, most notably a facility "which is by its nature distinctly private", nor "any educational facility, columbarium, crematory, mausoleum, or cemetery operated or maintained by a bona fide religious or sectarian institution". Here is a paper that summarizes the situation with women'-only clubs. For example, New Jersey law has the exception that

nothing herein contained shall be construed to bar any place of public accommodation which is in its nature reasonably restricted exclusively to individuals of one sex, and which shall include but not be limited to any summer camp, day camp or resort camp, bathhouse, dressing room, swimming pool, gymnasium, comfort station, dispensary, clinic or hospital, or school or educational institution which is restricted exclusively to individuals of one sex...

So it depends on the state, but most states prohibit any sex discrimination in public accommodations.

  • This is a well-detailed answer. This might be a different question altogether but in the case of an app where there is no physical location is the app bonded to the discrimination law of the state the location is incorporated or does it follow each of the states it operates in? Dec 12, 2020 at 4:01

I suppose that a "Men's barbershop" will actually take clients of any gender as long as they have a beard. For example a woman with the bad luck to have lots of facial hair, or a transgender woman who has not transitioned and still has a beard (possible still with a male appearance).

If you fall into these groups and they don't accept you as a customer, you'd have the right to complain, with good chances of success.

  • 1
    "I suppose that a "Men's barbershop" will actually take clients of any gender as long as they have a beard." Try hair. They can still give women hair cuts... it's just that they may not be fashionable hair styles for women.
    – hszmv
    Dec 11, 2020 at 13:09
  • But what's the legal grounding backing that? To my understanding businesses can, unfortunately, discriminate based on gender, or sexual orientation. Dec 11, 2020 at 13:11
  • 1
    @hszmv there is actually a reason for that one. There are a few complaints I can find about male barbershops turning away female customers and site the fact that they "don't have the skill the cut women's hair". Dec 11, 2020 at 13:14
  • 1
    Weird, I've gotten haircuts at men's barbershops my whole life despite never growing a beard. Dec 11, 2020 at 19:27
  • @User37849012643: It may be a case that what the woman wants the barber to do when asking for a specific style is out of the barber's capability either from technical equipment or skill (I really don't know hair cutting enough to give you a why, but suppose the request includes a perm, which the barber might not have the equipment or skill set to do). Then it's not discriminating against a woman, but discriminating against a customer asking for something not offered. It would be like if I went to McDonald's and ordered a personal pizza. I need specific cases to comment further.
    – hszmv
    Dec 11, 2020 at 19:51

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