A transgender woman has won a discrimination lawsuit against a San Diego-area Crunch Fitness gym that refused to allow her to use the women’s locker room and restroom, even though it was her right under California law.
The El Cajon-based gym agreed to pay an undisclosed settlement to Christynne Wood and have all employees undergo anti-discrimination training, including the identification and prevention of harassment based on gender expression, the ACLU of Southern California said in a statement Wednesday.
“I feel elated and validated to finally reach resolution in this case,” Wood said in the statement. “I hope the settlement helps the owners of Crunch and other gyms appreciate the importance of respecting transgender people’s identities. It’s not only our legal right, but also could save a life.”
Trans discrimination, protections
The discrimination Wood experienced is not an anomaly. A study conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA found that approximately 70% of transgender people have experienced discrimination when trying to use public restrooms.
It’s also against the law in California. The Unruh Civil Rights Act bans discrimination based on “a person’s gender identity and gender expression,” and goes on to define gender expression as “a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.”
California law mandates that trans people have access to the restroom and locker room that align with their gender identity.
“No one should have to endure the indignity and harassment that Crunch Fitness inflicted on Christynne,” Aditi Fruitwala, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, said in the statement. “Thanks to Christynne’s moxie and courage to come forward and fight for her rights, a clear message has been sent to businesses.”
Early in life Wood, now in her 60s, realized that her gender identity was female, but she didn’t feel comfortable expressing that publicly until becoming more acquainted with the LGBTQ community and gaining confidence about identifying as a transgender woman, the ACLU of Southern California said in the statement.
Wood began to transition to female with the support of health care providers.
Crunch Fitness discrimination
Wood was an avid gym goer. She lost more than 100 pounds, as urgently advised by medical personnel, and made several friends among staffers and patrons, ACLU of Southern California said.
But nine years into her gym membership, when she informed management that she was in the process of transitioning to female, Wood’s relationship with Crunch Fitness radically changed. Management refused to allow her use of the women’s locker room and restroom, according to court documents.
She also encountered harassment, including an incident where a man approached Wood in the men’s locker room, smiling and grabbing his genitals. Wood fled the locker room and reported the incident to a gym manager, but as near as she could tell, no action was taken, the statement said.
Wood requested use of the women’s facilities, but was told she needed to obtain a doctor’s verification of her transitioning. On Sept. 30, 2016, she presented a letter that not only confirmed her treatments, but also stated it was “very important” she be able to use the women’s facilities, according to court documents.
But she was denied access.
In October 2016, Wood was given free access to use a premium locker room, but it was a men’s facility. Even after she obtained a Superior Court order legally changing her name and gender, Crunch Fitness refused to let her use the women’s locker room, according to court documents.
It was only after another men’s locker room harassment incident – a man referred to her as a “fucking faggot” – that Wood was finally allowed access to the women’s facilities.
This incident took place Sept. 15, 2017, almost a year after Wood presented the doctor’s letter.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed the initial lawsuit against the gym in 2018. The ACLU SoCal, the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and the law firm Nixon Peabody later joined the lawsuit.
“DFEH brought suit in this case under the California Unruh Civil Rights Act to vindicate the essential right of transgender Californians to live their lives free from discrimination,” Kevin Kish, director of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, said in the statement. “Today’s settlement ensures that no Californian will face the discrimination Ms. Wood experienced in the future at this establishment.”
Since the events described in the lawsuit, the ownership and management of the gym has changed.
Wood remains a gym member.