SAN DIEGO — The ACLU Foundation of Southern California; ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties; and law firm Nixon Peabody LLP today moved to join a state lawsuit on behalf of Christynne Wood, a transgender woman denied use of women's bathrooms and locker rooms at a Crunch Fitness gym in El Cajon.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which enforces the state's civil rights laws, filed the suit against the gym on April 17 in San Diego Superior Court. The suit, which the ACLU affiliates and Nixon Peabody moved to join, charges that the Crunch Fitness gym and its owner, John Romeo, discriminated against Wood on the basis of her gender identity and gender expression, and failed to properly supervise and train employees in anti-discrimination laws. Also, the gym failed to adequately protect Wood from harassment.
"California law makes clear that every person has the right to use facilities appropriate to their gender identity," said Amanda Goad, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. "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."
Wood, who lives in Lakeside in San Diego County, has been a dues-paying member of the Crunch Gym in El Cajon for about 11 years. Health-wise, it changed her life. She joined shortly after undergoing angioplasty surgery and receiving medical advice that she urgently needed to lose weight.
Due to her diligent adherence to exercise programs at the gym — most especially in water aerobics sessions — Wood lost more than 100 pounds. She also made friendships at the gym with both gym members and some fitness instructors.
Early in life Wood, now 61, realized that her gender identity was female, but she didn't feel comfortable expressing that publicly. Only after becoming more acquainted with the LGBTQ community did she gain confidence about identifying as a transgender woman. In 2016, she began transitioning to female with the support of health care providers.
Wood told the instructor and other participants in the water aerobics classes about her transition. She continued to use the men's locker room, but in September 2016 she began to get harassed there. One man approached her in the locker room, smiled, and grabbed his genitals. Feeling threatened and humiliated, she fled the locker room and reported the incident to a gym manager. But as near as Wood could tell, no action was taken to address the situation.
Wood asked to use the women's facilities and was told she could do that if she obtained a doctor's verification of her transitioning. On Sept. 30, 2016, she presented the letter that not only confirmed her treatments, but also stated it was "very important" she be able to use the women's facilities at the gym.
Still, Wood was denied use of the women's locker rooms and bathrooms, even after obtaining a Superior Court order legally changing her name and gender. It was only after another harassment incident — a man in the locker room referred to her as a "fucking faggot" — that Wood was finally allowed access to the women's facilities. This was on Sept. 15, 2017, almost an entire year after she presented the doctor's letter.
The refusals to give Wood access to the women's facilities were clear violations of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination based on "a person's gender identity and gender expression." It 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."
"The discrimination and harassment Christynne experienced is unacceptable," said Erin Holyoke, attorney at Nixon Peabody LLP. "We hope this lawsuit furthers the message that discrimination of any kind should not be tolerated."
The suit asks the court to order Crunch Fitness gym in El Cajon to provide all current and prospective members access to the locker rooms and bathrooms appropriate to their gender identities. It also asks that the gym be required to provide appropriate training to all managers and employees on obligations under the Unruh Act, with special emphasis on gender identity and the prevention of harassment.
The suit also asks that monetary damages be paid to Wood, including those provided by the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Read the court complaint here: