Planet Fitness faces suit over Muslim head covering

An Albuquerque Planet Fitness refused to let a New Mexico Muslim woman wear her religious head covering while she tried to work out, according to a new lawsuit.

An attorney for Tarainia McDaniel, 37, recently filed the lawsuit in a New Mexico district court stemming from an October 2011 clash that prevented McDaniel from using the gym, even though court documents said another Planet Fitness had previously let her, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

According to the lawsuit, McDaniel joined New Hampshire-based gym chain Planet Fitness in Albuquerque on a two-year contract and later transferred to another gym location. But the lawsuit said on Oct. 3, 2011 she was turned away at her new gym and was told the head covering didn't meet its dress code.

McDaniel said she even offered to wear a hijab, the formal head covering.

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.

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Anderson said she could not comment further on pending litigation.

McDaniel's civil lawsuit, filed under the New Mexico Human Rights Act and the Unfair Practices Act, alleges the 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 or non-pretextual 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.

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 a 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 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."

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