Saturday, December 08, 2012

Should Barbers Have the Right to Refuse Service to Women?

Should barbers have the right to refuse service to women?

Rex Murphy and George Jonas think so.

But it's not so clear to me. After all, discrimination in employment, housing, and even public accommodation like hotels is outlawed. Why should be it different for services like getting haircuts?

Does the reason for declining to cut the woman's hair matter? Would it be different if the barber pleaded incompetence at cutting women's hair, or if he did for the reason he stated: his Muslim beliefs prevent him from servicing women? How about if he refused to cut the hair of Jews, or blacks? Would that be more or less acceptable?


Pseudonym said...

I would say that yes, the reason matters.

This reminds me of the case of Marcia Walden.

We generally give professionals a lot of latitude in deciding whether or not they can take on a client.

Should a lawyer be required to take on a client who wants to mount a frivolous lawsuit? Should a doctor be required to perform a medical procedure on someone who, in their opinion, may not understand the full implications of that procedure? Should a counsellor be required to take on a client whose needs are sufficiently outside the counsellor's area of expertise?

As a general rule, and assuming it's not some kind of emergency or other special circumstances, the answer is "no". Regardless of how inconvenienced a potential client may be, the default position of the law is that it's the professional's job to determine whether they and the client are a good or bad fit, because they are the experts. A professional may decline taking on a client for any reason at all (some professions are expected to provide a referral and some are not) and the law won't pry into the reason why.

If you are an expert, it's part of your job to know whether or not a potential client is a good fit. Depending on what kind of job you have, it may be part of your job to provide a referral if you can't take the client.

Whether you're a lawyer or a barber, all you have to do is say "I'm not the best person to help you", and possibly follow it up with "let me tell you who can help you better than I can". That's it. Nothing further required.

If you go further and give a reason, and it's a "bad" reason (e.g. you're a bigot), that's when you cross the line. You are creating a hostile environment, you are probably breaking a code of ethics if you're a professional, and you are also possibly violating an anti-discrimination law or two.

This may sound like I'm advocating covering up bigotry. In a sense, I am. Given that you can't legislate bigotry away, it's preferable that you keep your bigotry to yourself. And if some industry is full of bigots and some particular person or group can't get the services they need, then that's arguably a problem with the industry or society as a whole.

Unknown said...

In Russia most specialists in men's haircuts (all the barbers in Russia are women, by the way) will refuse service to a woman who will just ask for men's haircut! It is not religion, but I do not know what. Maybe just an informal agreement with another barber shop next door where exactly the same haircut made as a women's one is twice more expensive.

Gerry Myerson said...

"servicing women"? Unfortunate choice of words. I think maybe "serving women" would be better.