On Thursday, Michigan judges ruled against a plaintiff who complained about a transgender woman in a gym’s female locker room. Their ruling: No damage was done in the eyes of the law.
Yvette M. Cormier joined a Planet Fitness in Midland, Michigan on January 28, 2015. That membership didn’t last long, according to her complaint. A month after she joined, Cormier discovered a transgender woman in the ladies’ locker room. Cormier complained to the front desk. They and the corporate office told her that PF didn’t restrict facility-access based on gender-identity. She was in no way a fan of this policy, telling other female members to be careful when using the locker room. The gym told her to stop, and when she didn’t, they canceled her membership on March 4, 2015.
She sued, claiming invasion of privacy, sexual harassment under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (CRA), retaliation, gender-based discrimination, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
The State of Michigan Court of Appeals wasn’t convinced by her arguments. On Thursday, they upheld a lower court ruling against Cormier’s lawsuit. The judges didn’t think her claims were substantive enough, and their ruling mentioned that both women were clothed.
From their opinion, in which they dismiss the sexual harassment claim [citations removed; emphasis ours]:
Before a plaintiff can establish actionable sexual harassment under a hostile work environment theory or a quid pro quo theory, she must first “allege facts showing that she was subjected to ‘unwelcome sexual advances,’ ‘requests for sexual favors,’ or ‘conduct or communication of a sexual nature’.” … According to plaintiff, because of defendants’ policy, the transgender man [sic] had the opportunity to undress in front of her and to see her undress which, she maintains, is conduct or communication of a sexual nature. … However, the CRA does not define sexual harassment as being subjected to an opportunity for a person to engage in verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature. Rather the CRA requires that the sexual conduct or communication substantially interfered with the plaintiff’s utilization of public accommodations.
In other words, no harm, no foul. Judges ruled that Planet Fitness did everything legal. For example, they said there was no breach of contract because the gym only terminated Cormier’s membership after she refused to stop warning others about trans women in the locker room.
“Transgender rights and policies are polarizing issues and each individual may have a feeling on the issue and on what locker room such individuals should be using,” the opinion said. “Regardless of whether an average member of the community may find the policy outrageous, the fact is that plaintiff did not suffer severe emotional distress as a matter of law.”
“There is no question we’re going to appeal,” Cormier’s attorney David Kallman, from Kallman Legal Group, told LawNewz.com. They plan on taking their case to the Michigan Supreme Court. In particular, he disagrees with the appellate court’s interpretation of the CRA, Michigan’s civil rights law. Kallman maintains that Planet Fitness’ policy on locker room facilities and gender identity violates the statute.
[Image via Susan Montgomery/Shutterstock]
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