Two men were recently refused entry to Jake’s in Leeds because they were a same sex couple. The door supervisor reportedly told the couple “sorry lads; mixed groups and mixed couples only”.

Some bars and clubs operate a couples-only policy where they have had trouble with large groups of intoxicated young people. However, if you operate such a policy you must be sure that it only applies to mixed couples as this would be unlawful discrimination.

LGBT charity Stonewall says that “one in six LGBT people who visited a café, restaurant, bar or nightclub in the last 12 months have been discriminated against based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in Britain.”

What does the law say?

The Equality Act protects individuals against discrimination by all kinds of traders and service providers including restaurants, hotels, bars and clubs. It is unlawful discrimination if an operator treats a member of the public unfairly because of one of the 9 protected characteristics set out in legislation namely:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Marriage and civil partnership

In a landmark case in 2013 The Supreme Court held that the Chymorvah Guest House in Cornwall had discriminated against a gay couple in a civil partnership when they refused to let the couple share a double bedroom at their bed and breakfast. The couple’s argument that they were Christian and refused to allow any unmarried couples to stay in a double room was not accepted by the Court as a defence and the gay couple were awarded damages.

The same would apply if you operate a policy of not allowing groups of black males or predominantly black customers into your bar or nightclub. Equally you cannot refuse entry to customers who you feel are too old for your venue.  Another example of unfair treatment would include offering cheaper drinks to females or under 21s.

You can chose the types of clientele that you want to attract but not at the expense of a protected section of society.

Right to refuse entry

As the licensee you have a right to refuse entry to specific individuals – for example, you can exclude someone if they are a known troublemaker, overly aggressive or drunk. However, you cannot refuse access to an individual because of a protected characteristic.

Practical Tip – If you refuse entry to an individual, keep a note of the refusal and the reasons for it.

Liability for agency door staff

Many operators choose to employ agency workers as door staff as and when they need them. However, if door staff unlawfully turn away customers you may be liable for their acts even if they are agency staff.

In 2006 the case of Hawley v Luminar Ltd decided that a night club was vicariously liable for the actions of an agency bouncer who punched a customer causing him to fall and suffer permanent brain damage.  The Court decided that Luminar exercised direct control over what door staff were to do and how they were to do it.  The door staff were therefore “temporary deemed employees”.

If you have sufficient control over agency staff or fail to take sufficient steps to ensure that you use competent staff then you will very likely be liable for their actions.

Practical Tip – Ensure that all agency staff are trained in equality legislation and on your outlet’s policy on entry and refusing entry. If you require the agency supplying the staff to carry out equality training, you must ensure that this has been done properly.

You may also be interested in:

Equal access for the disabled – a report by the House of Lords last year on the impact of the Equality Act on disabled people found that disabled people are not yet able to participate fully in society and that further action is needed.  The report argued that pubs which breach the Equality Act by not providing facilities for the disabled should have their licence refused or should be shut down. READ MORE

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.