ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A gym in Albuquerque refused to let a Muslim woman wear her religious head covering when she tried to work out, according to a new lawsuit against the company.
An attorney for Tarainia McDaniel, 37, recently filed the lawsuit in a New Mexico district court stemming from a 2011 clash at a Planet Fitness that prevented McDaniel from using the gym while wearing the head covering, even though court documents said another Planet Fitness in the area had previously let her do so, the Albuquerque Journal reports (http://goo.gl/lqi6Xj).
McDaniel joined the New Hampshire-based gym chain Planet Fitness in Albuquerque on a two-year contract and later transferred to another location, according to the lawsuit.
On Oct. 3, 2011, she was turned away at her new gym and was told the informal head covering didn't meet its dress code, the lawsuit states. The gym had a sign that said "no jeans, work boots, bandanas, skull caps or revealing apparel."
McDaniel said she asked to be allowed to wear the informal head covering to accommodate her Muslim faith, and she even asked if she should come back wearing a formal head covering known as the hijab, according to the lawsuit.
But the gym denied her requests, the lawsuit states.
Planet Fitness attorney Erika Anderson said the head covering violates the gym's dress-code policy. "My client's position is that they didn't know the head covering was for religious purposes," Anderson said.
Anderson said she could not comment further on pending litigation.
In a statement, the company said gyms take into account members' religious affiliations. "At Planet Fitness, our policy is, and has always been, that members are allowed to wear head scarves for religious reasons in our clubs," the company said.
McDaniel's civil lawsuit, filed under the New Mexico Human Rights Act and the Unfair Practices Act, alleges that Planet Fitness illegally based the decision to deny her access upon her religion, or alternatively upon her race — she is African-American — and that the gym had no legitimate reason to deny her entry.
Planet Fitness, in its formal answer to the claims, denies violations of either the Human Rights Act or Unfair Practices Act. It says McDaniel failed to participate in good faith and that the company has legitimate business reasons for its practice as well as measures to prevent discrimination.
Planet Fitness has run into other controversies about its rules.
The KTVU TV station in Oakland, Calif., reports that a woman on Wednesday was asked to cover up while working out at a Planet Fitness in Richmond, Calif., because her body was too intimidating to others at the gym. A Planet Fitness spokesperson told the station that the company "strives to make everyone feel comfortable" and says the dress code is at the discretion of the staff and manager.
In 2006, Albert Argibay of Beacon, N.Y. was escorted by police officers from a gym for grunting, which is against Planet Fitness' rules for maintaining a non-intimidating atmosphere.
According to McDaniel's deposition, she said the Quran "is pretty specific on covering your hair" and dressing modestly in clothes that fit loosely.
In the deposition, Anderson asked if McDaniel recalled the sign posted at Planet Fitness that said "no jeans, work boots, bandanas, skull caps or revealing apparel."
According to the transcript, McDaniel acknowledged seeing the sign. But she added, "I already (had) made it known before I signed the contract that I covered my hair. I had on (what) I call a head covering. I guess for the sake of the record, they're referring to it as a head covering."
When Anderson asked if she told them she was Muslim, McDaniel replied, "I sure did."
In 2013, a federal appeals court dismissed claims by an Oklahoma Muslim woman who said she was not hired by retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because her headscarf conflicted with the company's dress code. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in a lawsuit that Samantha Elauf, then 17, wasn't hired in 2008 at an Abercrombie store in Tulsa's Woodland Hills Mall because her hijab violated the retailer's "Look Policy."
But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Elauf never told Abercrombie she needed a religious accommodation, even though she was wearing the headscarf during her interview.
The Ohio-based company changed its policy four years ago. It recently settled similar lawsuits in California.