Can Businesses Refuse to Serve Cops?


A Recent Dunkin’ Donuts worker has been accused of refusing to serve New York Police officers.

A pair of NYPD officers were denied service at a Brooklyn Dunkin’ Donuts by a clerk who said, “I don’t serve cops” — and the head of the detectives union is leading a boycott of the chain, The Post has learned.

Gabriella Bass

The Dunkin’ Donuts at 1993 Atlantic Ave. allegedly refused to serve NYPD officers.

It’s worth stepping back for a second to acknowledge that those dumb signs reading, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” are, generally speaking, expressions of free speech.

In most cases, no one can force a business to serve people they don’t want to. That’s why companies have historically had the power to enact enforceable prerequisites to entry that dictate you can’t, for instance, dress like a douche, or that you can’t be a biker. So, yes, you could turn someone away because of their job—if you really wanted to.

“It’s not against the law to refuse to serve police officers, or any other kind of occupational category,” said David Sklansky, a Stanford University law professor and co-director of Stanford’s Criminal Justice Center. “It’s like saying, ‘Bus drivers are not welcome here,’ or, “Trash collectors are not welcome.’ It’s a dumb and insulting thing to do to any group of workers, but it’s not illegal.”

Such policies become discriminatory when they’re being used to turn away legally protected classes of people. You can’t refuse service on the basis of someone’s race, color, religion, or nationality, according to Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and on the basis of other factors that vary by state. But unless you’re in a place where some weird local law lumps police in with the other protected classes, you could theoretically say to every cop, “Your money is not welcome at my vape shop,” if that’s what your heart demands.

Police can retaliate

Cops are, of course, still supposed to show up at a publicly anti-cop business if a crime takes place there. In such a case, according to Fagan, there are “dozens of ways” vengeful police could theoretically make the owner or employees suffer for an anti-police policy. Those include “slow response time, mis-recording the crime report, or mis-filing,” he told me. The police could also ask for extra proof or evidence, or downplay the severity of an alleged offense. And “unless they’re ignoring murder or something serious,” Fagan added, they would probably get away with it.

So, yeah, as a rule, it’s probably not a great idea for you or your business to turn away cops as a matter of practice, even if you don’t like them—and even if your chance of suffering legal blowback is small. Meanwhile, Dunkin’ Donuts is reportedly considering a name change: just “Dunkin.” It remains to be seen what kind of impact, if any, said rebrand might have on the relationship between the chain and New York’s finest.


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