The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and law firm Nixon Peabody LLP have filed a joint lawsuit against a California Crunch Fitness franchisee alleging one of its transgender members was barred from using the women’s locker room and restroom at a San Diego County health club. It also alleges the club did not protect her from harassment.
In 2016, Christynne Wood, a 61-year-old transgender woman who had been a member of the club for 11 years, claims she began experiencing discrimination at her Crunch Fitness gym in El Cajon, according to a May 2 ACLU media release.
Wood began transitioning to become a woman in 2016, a fact she made the instructor and participants of the water aerobics class she had been attending aware of even though she continued to use the men's locker room at that time, according to the release. However, in September 2016, she said that a man approached her in the men's locker room, smiled and grabbed his genitals. Feeling threatened, she left the locker room and reported the member to a gym manager. When she asked to use the women's locker room, she was told she could do so if she presented a doctor’s letter verifying that she was transitioning. On Sept. 30, 2016, Wood said she presented a doctor’s letter to club staff verifying that she was transitioning from male to female and wished to use the women’s facilities. Later, she also obtained a San Diego Superior Court order that confirmed her name and gender change. Wood was allegedly denied access until September 2017 after another harassment incident in the men's locker room.
In April 2018, the DFEH filed a lawsuit against club owner CFG Jamacha LLC and its principal John Romeo on behalf of Wood. The DFEH is seeking compensatory damages for Wood as well as injunctive relief, including additional training for the club’s staff on California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which outlaws sex-based discrimination, and a modification of the club’s policies regarding restroom and locker room access.
“California law makes clear that every person has the right to use facilities appropriate to their gender identity,” Amanda Goad, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said in the May 2 media release. “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.”
On May 11, Crunch Fitness provided the following statement to Club Industry regarding the litigation: “Our philosophy at Crunch is 'no judgments,' and we promote positive body image and self-esteem in a fun atmosphere. All of our gyms are committed to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all members. The club from which the complaint arose is an independently owned and operated franchise and we cannot speak to the circumstance of the allegations.”
The company was ranked as No. 10 on Club Industry's 2017 Top 100 Clubs list with revenue in 2016 of $170 million, a six percent increase from 2015.