Can a company refuse service to a customer who happens to work for one of their competitors?

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Can a company refuse service to a customer who happens to work for one of their competitors?

I was kicked out of a local electronics retailer after being asked if I worked for a national chain. The employee said, “I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You understand, we can’t have our competitors coming here and scoping out the place.” I was not wearing my uniform at the time, so I don’t know how she knew where I worked (nor was I on the clock). I had put in a credit app with them on-line and was looking around before I brought them the paperwork they requested to complete the application. Despite my explaining this, I was still told to leave. Can they legally make me leave the store like that?

Asked on May 1, 2011 under General Practice, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Yes, a local retailer may do this. Retailers or other stores/restaurants/etc. are not obligated to serve any and everyone who comes in. Their obligation is to not discriminate on certain bases (e.g. on account of race or disability), but otherwise, they may exclude people who are disruptive; who pose a threat of theft or violence; who won't obey rules (think of how casinos, for example, allowed to exclude card counters); who have defrauded the business before; etc. Another category which may be validly excluded are people whom the establishment believes are not there for a proper purpose (e.g. are not primarily there to buy, but rather to do competitive  or market research) or whom the establishiment believes will take information back to competitors. So yes, the store may make you leave if they believe that you may be there to report information to a competitive establishment.


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