The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled this week that exercise areas of gyms restricted to only women violate a law prohibiting discrimination.
In a unanimous decision supported by all six of the state’s justices, the court overturned a previous ruling from a lower court. The judgment also reversed a decision from a Connecticut human rights official.
The case originated when a couple of men took issue with the gender-segregated areas in two gyms. The men said they could not use equipment that was occupied elsewhere because it was located in an area designated for women. The men contend the policy violates that state’s public accommodation statute.
Initially, Connecticut’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunites ruled in favor of the gyms. The men subsequently appealed the decision.
“The appeal should be sustained because Connecticut public accommodation statute does not contain an exception for customer gender privacy,” said attorney Michal Roberts, who represented CHRO, in a statement.
The case made its way to the State Supreme Court, which heard arguments from attorneys for Edge Fitness LLC in Stratford and Club Fitness in Bloomfield, as well as a lawyer for Connecticut’s CHRO.
Various advocacy groups submitted briefs to the court, debating the role and concept of gender.
“Religious groups said separate workout areas are important for women whose religious beliefs bar them from exercising in front of men,” reports NBC Connecticut. “Other groups, including GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said such gender exemptions can lead to unintended consequences and have been used to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut opposed the women-only workout areas, agreeing with the plaintiffs that they violated anti-discrimination laws.
The businesses argued that women-only areas were needed in male-dominated locations.
Connecticut’s Public Accommodation Act included exemptions for bathrooms, sleeping areas, and locker rooms.
Chief Justice Richard Robinson wrote the Jan. 25 decision. He said that ultimately the legislature would need to determine the specific limitation of anti-discrimination protections.
“A reading of (the law) to imply a gender privacy exception, although presumably to benefit women, could also negatively affect the rights of women in a different way,” Robinson wrote. “Such an exception could be invoked to exclude women based on the privacy interests of men and could justify discrimination against transgender individuals because some customers, ‘due to modesty, find it uncomfortable’ to be around such people.”
Legal teams representing the gyms indicated it was too early to say if they would appeal to a federal court.