COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES v.

EDGE FITNESS, LLC, et al., SC 20538

Judicial District of New Britain

 

      Sex Discrimination; Whether Women Only Workout Area in Gym Amounted to Sex Discrimination Prohibited by General Statutes § 46a-64; Whether Trial Court Properly Found Activity Exempt.  The defendants, Edge Fitness, LLC, and Club Camel, Inc., Bloomfield, doing business as Club Fitness, operate two Connecticut gyms that designate certain space as women only workout areas.  Men are prohibited from exercising in these areas.  Two men who individually used the defendant gyms filed separate complaints with the plaintiff, the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, alleging that the women only workout areas violate General Statutes § 46a-64 (a) and its prohibition against sex discrimination in the provision of public accommodations.  The matters were consolidated, and the plaintiff's hearing officer concluded that the defendants' practice of having separate women only workout areas does not violate § 46a-64 (a).  The hearing officer found that the defendants offer the areas to encourage more women to come to the gyms and, also, that the areas are frequented by women of the Muslim and Jewish faiths who are forbidden from exercising with men.  A psychologist testified that women uniquely feel sexually objectified when exercising alongside the opposite sex; that, per a survey, the women who used the areas did so out of concerns related to privacy, safety, and judgment by others; and that eliminating the areas would be harmful to women's health because the majority of the women who took the survey indicated that eliminating the areas would cause them to consider canceling their gym memberships.  The hearing officer found that the women only workout areas were created to address the same gender privacy concerns that give rise to the statutory exemptions that permit discrimination on the basis of sex with respect to bathrooms, sleeping areas, and locker rooms.  The women only workout areas were therefore deemed to serve a legitimate remedial purpose, and, as a result, the hearing officer concluded that they did not violate § 46a-64 (a).  The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, which dismissed the appeal after agreeing that the defendants did not violate state law.  The court similarly found that the gender privacy interests at issue with the women only workout areas are equivalent to those interests that led the legislature to create the bathroom and locker room exemptions to the prohibition on sex discrimination.  Moreover, the trial court concluded that eliminating the women only workout areas would disparately impact and unduly burden Muslim and Jewish members' freedom of religion.  The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, and the Supreme Court granted the plaintiff's motion to transfer the case to itself.  The plaintiff claims on appeal that the defendants violated § 46a-64 (a) by discriminating on the basis of sex and that, contrary to the trial court's conclusion, there is no "customer gender privacy" exception to the statute here.  Furthermore, the plaintiff claims that the hearing officer improperly applied this customer gender privacy exception to both cases, although it had only been pleaded in one, and erred in considering the customers' right to the free exercise of religion when neither defendant raised that issue.