Can Chefs Legally Ban Donald Trump From Their Restaurants?

Photograph by Flickr user Gage Skidmore.

Banning is becoming a trend in the Trump campaign—and it’s not just Trump attempting to block news organizations like the Washington Post. Chefs and business owners are jumping on the opposite side of the ban-wagon, refusing service to The Donald and his supporters. The most recent restaurateur to say no: celebrity chef Michael Symon, who told CBS Cleveland that he’d bar Trump at his eateries during the Republican National Convention.

“There’s not a chance I’d let him into one of my restaurants,” said the Food Network star, a Cleveland native. “This isn’t a Democratic [or] Republican thing, trust me, it’s just a ‘he creeps me out’ thing.”

Given Trump’s love of litigation—this is the candidate with a history of 3,500 legal actions—could Symon and similarly-minded chefs find themselves in court?

Not necessarily, says George Washington University law professor Michael Selmi, who’s specialized in discrimination cases.

“It’s a little tricky, but there’s no general law that prohibits excluding someone from your business,” says Selmi. “There are Public Accommodations laws based on things like race, gender, and national origin. Excluding him because he [Symon] dislikes him would generally be permissible.”

That being said, DC restaurant owners who attempt a similar ploy with Trump or his followers may find themselves in murkier waters. The District’s Public Accommodations laws are some of the most progressive in the country, and include “political affiliation” among more common statutes like religion and age. Still, even then, it’s not guaranteed that denying Trump a well-done steak would lead to a lawsuit.

“When political affiliation is included, it is not always clear what is covered,” says Selmi. “If the bagel shop, for example, was refusing to sell to Donald Trump because he was a Republican, it would clearly be covered. I assume they serve lots of Republicans, and would claim it is because of his beliefs, not his affiliation, that is at issue.”

Regardless, DC chefs might want to take a cue from José Andrés, who’s embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with Trump over alleged breach of contract at the Trump International Hotel.

Inclusion is how I make a living,” Andrés recently told an audience at the Hispanic-American Entrepreneurship Summit.  “ I want all my guests to feel happy and welcome, to feel at home.”

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.