Commission Rules Against Las Vegas Athletic Club

LAS VEGAS -- The Nevada Equal Rights Commission decided in a 3-to-1 vote that the Las Vegas Athletic Club’s promotion offering free enrollment to women was discriminatory. The vote was held Nov. 7 after a public hearing before the commission.

The ruling came as a result of a complaint filed by Todd Phillips, who brought the complaint last year after his wife got a free enrollment to the fitness club while he did not.

Chad Smith, the executive vice president of the Las Vegas Athletic Club, says the outcome of the vote was expected, even though he disagrees with it.

“We don’t feel like what we were doing is discrimination,” Smith says.

During special promotions, the Las Vegas Athletic Club offered a free enrollment to women and charged a $10 enrollment to men. Enrollment at the club normally is $99.

Phillips claims that once he complained about the promotion to the club staff, the club terminated his membership. Phillips also says he received a letter from the club stating his membership was cancelled and that he would be accused of trespassing if he returned to any of the six Las Vegas Athletic Clubs.

“It was retaliation because I questioned the policy,” Phillips says. “That saw that as an affront.”

Smith acknowledges that the letter was sent to Phillips, but only after Phillips made repeated calls to the six Las Vegas Athletic Clubs and harassed employees about the company’s promotion, Smith says.

The letter from the club prompted the complaint, Phillips says, not because Phillips, an attorney, has tried several cases involving women who receive free admission into nightclubs.

“I believe everyone should stand up for their civil rights,” he says.

Smith says that this matter will eventually go to court, and that the issue could continue to go on in the legal system for the next three to five years. It is also possible, Smith says, that the Nevada Resort Association will get involved in the case once it goes to court. An attorney with the association, which represents the casino industry, was on hand for the hearing last week.

Casinos also charge men and women differently for entry into several clubs, and the commission’s ruling could impact them in the future, the attorney for the association claimed. However, the association’s impact at the hearing was minimal since it was not party to the complaint.

“The ruling that [the commission] made affects not just our health club but all public accommodation and service industry in the state,” Smith says. “There is a specific law that addresses health clubs. They did not look at that law. They looked at the law that addresses what the Equal Rights Commission is supposed to do. The Equal Rights Commission is supposed to focus on all discrimination, including gender and age, while the law that addresses health clubs leaves out gender and age and other public accommodations.”

The commission issued a cease-and-desist order to stop the Las Vegas Athletic Club from running its “ladies join free” promotion, which Smith says the club stopped doing about three months ago.

“We had the same special that just ran last month; however, we allowed men to sign up under a free enrollment as well during that time, so it was equal pricing,” says Smith, who adds that he hopes to overturn the cease-and-desist order in court.

Phillips says the free enrollment for women and men is “perfectly lawful,” but he adds the promotion would be better if there were no mention of women or men, and it simply said “free enrollment.”

The commission had dismissed another complaint against the Las Vegas Athletic Club that questioned the club’s use of women-only areas, including a women-only workout room with trainers who have education in women’s health issues.

A similar case to the one in Las Vegas recently arose in California, where a man filed complaints against two women-only clubs on the basis of sex discrimination.

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