Planet Fitness is not having a good PR week. On Wednesdays news broke that a California woman was asked to cover up because her “toned body” intimidated other patrons, and today a Muslim woman says she was forced to cancel her membership after gym officials told her she couldn’t wear a head covering while working out. Tarainia McDaniel says she was approached by a Planet Fitness employee on October 3, 2011 and told that she couldn’t exercise with her headscarf, despite doing so several times before. The gym worker told her that her headscarf violated the gym’s dress code, which prohibits scarves or bandanas, but informed McDaniel she could return if she wore a baseball cap. As a devout Muslim, says McDaniel was forced to cancel her membership, and later filed a lawsuit alleging the gym discriminated against her because she’s an African American Muslim woman. The Albuquerque Journal reports:
According to McDaniel’s lawsuit, when she joined Planet Fitness on a two-year contract she typically went to the Coors location. When the gym on Irving opened, she began going there because it was closer to her home. On Oct. 3, 2011, she entered the gym as she had many times before and was turned away, the lawsuit says. She requested an accommodation based on her religious requirements and suggested that she could perhaps go home and come back with the hijab, the formal head covering, instead of what she was wearing, it says. McDaniel told employees she would have to cancel her membership and was informed she would have to do so at the Coors location and pay a cancellation fee, the lawsuit claims. At the Coors gym, an employee said the dress code was sometimes waived but that it couldn’t be in her case because the head covering was red, according to the complaint. McDaniel’s civil lawsuit, filed under the New Mexico Human Rights Act and the Unfair Practices Act, alleges 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.
Erika Anderson, a lawyer for Planet Fitness, disputes McDaniel’s claim. She told the Albuquerque Journal, “My client’s position is that they didn’t know the head covering was for religious purposes. It violated their dress code policy.” But McDaniel’s says the gym knew she was a Muslim woman who covered her hair before she signed the two-year contract. “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.” The case is scheduled for a bench trial and will be heard by New Mexico District Judge Beatrice Brickhouse in August.