Okla. Restaurant Won't Serve Gays, Disabled: Is That OK?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on February 11, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An Oklahoma restaurant owner isn't letting the law or human decency stop him from refusing to serve gays or the disabled.

Gary James, owner of Gary's Chicaros in Enid, told Oklahoma City's KFOR-TV that he "really [doesn't] want gays around." And some purported former patrons allege that the same goes for blacks, Hispanics, and people with disabilities.

Is there much the law can do for a charmer like James?

Owner Doesn't Like 'Freaks'

In the eyes of Oklahoma law, and in a great many states, this kind of "no gays" policy used by Gary James may actually be perfectly legal.

The reason is that sexual orientation is currently not protected under Oklahoma's public accommodations laws. Compare that to other states that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation by private businesses: being turned away for being gay may be grounds for a lawsuit in those states.

Oklahoma's civil rights laws prohibit discriminatory practices in public accommodations based on "race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability," but not sexual orientation (see Oklahoma Statute §25-1402). Oklahoma employers are also free to hire and fire employees based on sexual orientation.

So when it comes to James' policy of refusing to serve gay people, that's A-OK under Oklahoma law.

Race, Disability Discrimination Alleged

But because this isn't the Jim Crow-era South (or is it?), Oklahoma law does prevent business owners like James from barring disabled and/or non-white patrons from his restaurant. In fact, the state's Office of the Attorney General is tasked with investigating complaints of discrimination in public accommodation, and even provides a nifty complaint form. However, news reports don't indicate if any complaints have been filed against James' restaurant.

One disabled patron of Gary's Chicaros told WFOR-TV that he was recently turned away for being in a wheelchair. The customer also said that James "doesn't like certain people of race, color, ethnicity."

That seems to be supported by the restaurant's slogan -- "Where The Great Whites Gather" -- and its T-shirts, which are emblazoned with the N-word along with threats of violence against minorities, WFOR reports.

Just Desserts?: Yelp Blowback

Once word got out about James' policies on gays, the disabled, and persons of color, Yelpers took to the restaurant's Yelp profile and peppered it with comments. The comments mockingly paint James' establishment as "GOP GAY HEAVEN" complete with go-go dancers and drag shows.

This kind of Yelp chicanery has led to lawsuits in the past, but even some of the most successful Yelp defamation suits have ended in a stalemate.

If you've experienced discrimination based on your sexual orientation, disability, or race, contact a civil rights lawyer today.

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