Gyms can’t have female-only workout areas, CT Supreme Court rules say

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Connecticut’s highest court has ruled that gyms cannot designate separate fitness areas for the exclusive use of women, siding with civil rights groups who have argued that such facilities violate the laws of non-discrimination of the state.

The case – brought by two men who complained about having to wait to use equipment in the mixed areas of gymnasiums with separate workout rooms for women – ultimately involved much larger issues for the Connecticut’s Supreme Court decides, in particular, whether legislators intended to include blanket exceptions for “gender privacy” when they drafted laws prohibiting discrimination in public places.

The judges, in a 6-0 decision, said no such exception existed and it was left to the legislature to write specific rules for gender-specific gym facilities if they wanted to resolve the issue. problem.

Connecticut’s anti-discrimination laws already include specific language allowing for gender-segregated bathrooms, changing rooms and sleeping facilities.


Tuesday’s ruling overturned previous rulings by a state judge and a hearing officer of the Human Rights and Opportunity Commission, which authorized the use of exercise spaces reserved for children. women at two gyms involved in the lawsuit, Edge Fitness in Stratford and Club Fitness in Bloomfield.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Richard Robinson said he found merit in some of the concerns raised by proponents of women-only facilities, such as religious groups who argued such accommodations are necessary for women whose beliefs prohibit them from training in front of Men.

However, applying the “vague” notion of privacy to anti-discrimination laws would likely have unintended consequences that could discriminate against women or transgender people, Robinson wrote.

“Such an outcome of potentially limiting women’s and transgender people’s access to spaces based on men’s privacy interests or patrons’ ‘moral comfort’ defeats the purpose of anti-dumping legislation. -discrimination from our state,” Robinson wrote. .

The parent company of one of the gyms, Edge Fitness Clubs, released a statement on Monday, expressing pride in the services offered at its women-only studios. A gymnasium lawyer, James Shea, said he had not discussed the possibility of an appeal with his client, who he said would respect the decision.

In legal briefs, attorneys for both gyms described women-only training areas as places designed to make women feel more comfortable and safe from squinting or harassment — as well as a way to market gyms to more female customers.

“We listened to our members and fought this case on principle, and we believe in fighting for women’s rights,” the statement said. “At The Edge Fitness Clubs, we are committed to ensuring our gyms are a safe, stress-free place for women to work out.”

A lawyer for Club Fitness declined to comment.

In a statement released by attorney Michael Roberts, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity hailed the decision as a victory for the protection of civil rights. The commission appealed its own hearing officer’s decision to the Supreme Court.

“CHRO continues to encourage gyms and other public accommodations to develop policies to help prevent sexual harassment in their facilities,” Roberts said Wednesday. “Yesterday’s ruling makes it clear, however, that segregation based on protected class is not a lawful method of prevention.”

The case has also drawn the attention of civil rights groups, LGBTQ advocates and a dozen religious organizations across the state who have signed amicus briefs submitted to court. Oral arguments in the case took place in May 2021.

In an amicus brief filed with the court last April, attorneys for the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and the Connecticut Muslim Coalition said denying any gender privacy rights would only serve to harm practicing members of these faiths who plan to exercise in front of members. of the opposite sex a form of shamelessness.

“If the Court accepts this invitation, many Jewish and Muslim women will effectively be denied meaningful access to public gymnasiums, without any discernible benefit to anyone,” the lawyers wrote in the brief, which was also signed by others. Catholic, Jewish and interfaith groups.

Dan Barrett, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut which has filed amicus briefs opposing women-only facilities, said the issue of religious freedoms never came to court because neither gym claimed religion as a motivation for setting up all-women workouts.

“If there’s an establishment that claimed it couldn’t comply with Connecticut’s anti-discrimination laws for religious reasons, that takes us into a whole different area of ​​the law,” Barrett said.

Chief Justice Robinson was joined in the majority by Justices Gregory D’Auria, Steven Ecker, Maria Araujo Kahn, Christine Keller and Andrew McDonald. Associate Judge Raheem Mullins did not participate in the case.

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