Do Women-Only Areas in Gyms Discriminate Against Men?

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Do women-only workout areas in gyms discriminate against men? It's the question at the center of a state Supreme Court case.

On Tuesday, justices heard arguments from attorneys representing Edge Fitness LLC and Club Fitness and the state's Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The case is based on two men who claim they were being discriminated against based on their sex at Edge Fitness in Stratford and in Bloomfield at Club Fitness.

During the arguments, both sides answered questions from the justices about sexual discrimination, the differences between men and women, and the definition of gender.

Both gyms provide a "women-only workout area." The men wanted to use equipment in those areas because it was occupied elsewhere but were not allowed. The two men claim the women's workout-only areas violate the state's public accommodations statute.

The first complaint was heard by the CHRO which ruled in favor of the gym. The two men then made several appeals and the case made its way to Connecticut's Supreme Court.

"The appeal should be sustained because Connecticut public accommodation statute does not contain an exception for customer gender privacy," said Michal Roberts, an attorney representing CHRO.

At the center of both arguments is the interpretation of the stature which defines a discriminatory practice in part as: denying any person within the jurisdiction of the state full and equal accommodation because of sex.

"I'm having a problem where it talks about sex and discriminating-based and some discrimination is OK, but discriminating using this thing called sex, using this thing called gender," said Chief Justice Richard Robinson. "I'm not sure what it is."

As attorneys for both sides answered questions from the six justices, James Shea, representing one of the gyms defended the women-only exercise rooms.

"Concepts of objectification and self-objectification," said Shea. "What gives the rise to these concepts for women is simply, exercising in the presence of men."

Both sides will continue arguments Thursday when court resumes. There is no timeline on a decision in this case.

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