El Cajon Gym Sued Over Alleged Discrimination Against Transgender Woman

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An all-gender restroom at the San Diego International Airport. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties moved Wednesday to join a lawsuit filed by a state agency on behalf of a 61-year-old transgender woman who said she was denied use of women’s bathrooms and locker rooms at a Crunch Fitness gym in El Cajon.

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The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which enforces the state’s civil rights laws, filed the suit against the gym two weeks ago in San Diego Superior Court. The complaint alleges that the Crunch Fitness gym and its owner, John Romeo, discriminated against Christynne Wood on the basis of gender identity and gender expression, failed to properly supervise and train employees in anti-discrimination laws and failed to adequately protect Wood from harassment.

The gym owner could not immediately be reached for comment.

“California law makes clear that every person has the right to use facilities appropriate to their gender identity,” said Amanda Goad, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “No one should have to endure the discrimination, harassment and humiliation that Christynne experienced because of Crunch’s failure to follow the law and educate its employees about respect for transgender people.”

Wood, of Lakeside, has been a dues-paying member of the Crunch Gym in El Cajon for about 11 years. She joined shortly after undergoing angioplasty surgery and receiving medical advice that she urgently needed to lose weight, according to the lawsuit.

Due to diligent adherence to exercise programs at the gym — most especially water aerobics sessions — Wood lost more than 100 pounds. She also made friendships at the gym with both gym members and some fitness instructors, according to the lawsuit.

Early in life, Wood realized that her gender identity was female, but she didn’t feel comfortable expressing that publicly. Only after becoming more acquainted with the LGBTQ community did she gain confidence about identifying as a transgender woman and, in 2016, began transitioning to female with the support of health care providers, the lawsuit states.

Wood told the instructor and other participants in the water aerobics classes about her transition. She continued to use the men’s locker room, but in September 2016, began to get harassed there, according to the complaint. One man approached Wood in the locker room, smiled, and grabbed his genitals, according to the complaint.

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Feeling threatened and humiliated, she fled the locker room and reported the incident to a gym manager, the suit says. As near as Wood could tell, no action was taken to address the situation, according to the complaint.

Wood says she asked to use the women’s facilities and was told she could do so if she obtained a doctor’s verification of her transitioning. On Sept. 30, 2016, she says she presented the letter that not only confirmed her treatments, but also stated it was “very important” she be able to use the women’s facilities at the gym.

Still, Wood was denied use of the women’s locker rooms and bathrooms, even after obtaining a Superior Court order legally changing her name and gender, according to the lawsuit, which alleges it was only after another harassment incident in which a man used a homophobic slur that she was allowed access to the women’s facilities.

“The discrimination and harassment Christynne experienced is unacceptable,” said Erin Holyoke, an attorney at Nixon Peabody LLP, which joined the lawsuit. “We hope this lawsuit furthers the message that discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated.”

The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages for Wood, and a court order directing Crunch Fitness in El Cajon to provide all current and prospective members access to the locker rooms and bathrooms appropriate to their gender identities, and to provide appropriate training to all managers and employees on obligations under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, with special emphasis on gender identity and the prevention of harassment.

–City News Service

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