Avoiding Discriminatory Practices as a Notary Public

Hello, notary colleagues! 

Do you wonder if by saying “No” to a notary request or an assignment scheduler,  you are discriminating toward a client?

That’s what we’ll talk about today.  (Please bear in mind that neither I, nor Notary.net gives legal advice; this is for general discussion purposes only.) 

What is discrimination?

In the context of being a notary public, the general principle is that no person shall be excluded from receiving notarial services because a notary is biased against a person who belongs to a protected class. To exclude someone from receiving notarial services because you don’t like something about that person is probably discrimination if it relates to one of the protected classes listed in the next section.  (On the other hand, if you refuse to provide notarial services to a demanding, intoxicated person calling you at 1:30 a.m. and that person is speaking abusively to you, you have made a good choice.  That is not being biased.  It’s being safe.)

Protected Classes

The following list isn’t complete, but it covers several areas that notaries will be able to identify as fertile ground for bias and discrimination.  Some states vary in what is an “officially recognized” group, but it is a best practice for all notaries not to discriminate for any reason, including, but not limited to:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Age (40 and over, 18 and under)
  • Gender identity
  • Family status
  • Marital status
  • Physical illness, physical condition, or pregnancy.
  • Citizenship
  • Disability
  • Veteran status

These situations sound like discrimination to me!

I won’t cover all of them, but here are a few examples of discriminatory remarks.

  • “I don’t notarize for people who are from foreign countries.”
  • “I don’t notarize for people with disabilities (i.e., being deaf, blind, or have tremors when they write).”
  • “People who are over 70 years of age take too long to sign documents, so I don’t make appointments for people like that.”
  • “If you are an atheist, I won’t notarize documents for you.”
  • “If you’re name is Clara, and you look like Clarence, don’t call me for notary services. Sounds like you can’t figure out your gender!”

This does not sound like discrimination.  This sounds like smart business.

  • I prefer not to work for the 888 Notary Desk.  They pay slower (or lower) than my personal business policies allow.
  • I have refused all requests by  Sunset Notary — they have not paid me for the last assignment.  It’s been 90 days!
  • I am not comfortable with this particular type of assignment until I know more about it. 
  • My attorney said I should probably avoid handling those types of assignments.”

When can a notary rightfully say “No” to a request for notarial services?

Below is a list of generally acceptable reasons for saying “no” to a request.  There are others, but this should provide you sufficient practical insight.

  • The notary isn’t sure how to perform the notarial act.
  • The citizen cannot (or will not) provide adequate, lawfully acceptable identification documentation.
  • The notary has a suspended or revoked notary public commission.
  • The notary is not in possession of the notary seal or record book at the time of the notarial act if in a state requiring a seal and record book to be used by the notary. 
  • The notary believes the notarial act will be used for an unlawful purpose.
  • The requested notarial act is not authorized under the notary’s law.The citizen doesn’t agree to pay the authorized fee for the act.
  • There are conflicting interests, and the notary cannot be an impartial witness.
  • The signer isn’t available at the time of the notarial act–he or she won’t appear.
  • The notary cannot communicate directly with the client due to a language barrier.
  • The signer seems unwilling to sign the document or the signer does not seem to understand what he or she is signing.

How to Avoid Discriminatory Practices

Here are a few simple tips on avoiding pitfalls.  

  • Treat everyone the same. 
  • If you want to give discounts for citizens over 60, you may. However, you should maintain the discount for all citizens over 60.
  • The same is true for veterans. If you provide a percentage off for a few vets, you should make it standard across the board for all veterans.
  • If you are unable to feel positive about marrying same-sex couples and know that you will refuse to do so (assuming you are in a state that allows notaries to marry citizens), the solution is not to perform ceremonies for traditional couples. 

Please let us know if you have comments or questions!

If you have a topic in mind that you would like to know more about, let us know in the comments!

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Comments (5)

  • Csaba Galik

    Hello Brenda,
    I have a question. It’s discrimination if I refuse to notarize a POA or Health Care Directive for a client who has dementia?
    I’m afraid to be sued by other relatives of the person with dementia. Also, because I’m not a medical professional might not able to tell the person’s mind is clear at the moment or she/he is “not there”.

    April 3, 2019 at 2:04 pm
    • Andy Johnson

      You absolutely cannot notarize for anyone who does not understand what they are signing. If you know they have dementia and/or they are not coherently answering your questions, then no, do not notarize!

      April 3, 2019 at 2:21 pm
  • mountaineagle1

    There are federal, state, and sometimes local anti-discrimination laws. There are different laws for discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. The law may require a poster to be displayed to the public. I have the poster on my website and a copy in my mobile notary briefcase.
    In 19 states, age-based discrimination is unlawful in places of public accommodation. Beware of senior discounts.
    If serving a person with a disability takes more time, the notary cannot charge a higher fee to serve the disabled person.
    In some cities, political affiliation or political ideology discrimination is unlawful in places of public accommodation.
    Some states have notary laws that prohibit discrimination based on customer vs. non-customer status. (Public notary, not private notary.)
    If notary service is refused, it is good practice to make an entry in the notary journal explaining the valid reason.
    Jerry Lucas, ABC Legal Docs, LLC

    July 15, 2020 at 11:29 am
  • mountaineagle1

    Important Alert
    If you own or operate a website, blog, or forum that offers goods or services to the public, courts have now ruled that the website is considered a place of public accommodation, even if you do not have a physical walk-in business location. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), written before the internet age, courts now say the website must be accessible to people with disabilities so they can enjoy equal access to the same goods and services offered to everyone else.

    A recent landmark court case occurred when a blind person in California was not able to order a pizza on the website of a national pizza chain. The business was sued for disability discrimination.

    Most websites are not designed to be web-accessible and need to be remediated. Most website designers are not aware or knowledgeable about these new legal requirements and do not include these required features in their website designs. The requirements used by the courts are found in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at w3.org.

    There are free tools available including the WAVE and AXE browser extensions that can be installed to quickly check for web accessibility compliance errors and warnings. Some errors are created by the content writer and can be fixed by editing. Other errors are caused by the website structure and software and need to be fixed by the website or software developer.

    Once a website has been remediated, it is good practice to add an Accessibility Statement web page to inform the public that the business is acting diligently in good faith to maintain a website that is accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

    I designed my own small business website and blog using WordPress. I took free online video classes to learn the web accessibility rules. Then I remediated my website and added an Accessibility Statement.
    Jerry Lucas
    ABC Legal Docs, LLC

    October 5, 2020 at 3:03 pm

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