A New Mexico Muslim woman is suing Planet Fitness branch for what she believes is discrimination based on her religion. Tarainia McDaniel, a convert to the Muslim faith, states that staff at an Albuquerque branch told her to replace the head dressing with a baseball cap, after she had already explained that the scarf was an important part of her belief system. The incident in question actually took place in 2011, but only now is the matter scheduled to go to trial. McDaniel and Planet Fitness are preparing for the lawsuit to begin by August of this year.
McDaniel has filed a civil action under the New Mexico Human Rights Act and the Unfair Practices Act. Her suit claims that the national health club chain illegally denied her access because of her religion; the national health club chain has denied the claim.
According to Planet Fitness attorney Erika Anderson, McDaniel’s head covering violated the gym’s dress code policy. The chain’s workout facilities prohibit members from wearing revealing clothing or that which may be abrasive to equipment, such as denim. Anderson stated that Planet Fitness allows wearing of religious clothing, by policy. McDaniel claims that she had explained to the branch’s staff that she is Muslim, and thus allowed to wear the head garment. In a formal response to the claims, the company denies transgressions against either the Human Rights Act or Unfair Practices Act. As it prepares for the lawsuit, Planet Fitness counter claims that in fact McDaniel failed to act in good faith. It also claims to have measures to prevent discrimination; it had no intent of offending the woman’s Muslim principles.
McDaniel states that the Koran “is pretty specific” about women wearing loose, non-revealing clothing, and covering their heads. Planet Fitness is not the first business to find itself in a possible civil suit over Muslim dress code; clothing retail chain Abercrombie & Fitch faced litigation when it did not hire an Oklahoma Muslim because her insistence on wearing the head dressing violated the chain’s well-known “look policy.” Likewise the clothing retailer lost a lawsuit in 2013 relating to a 2010 termination of Muslim employee Hani Khan of California for refusing to remove her hijab. Khan had been a productive employee, and had no customer complaints.
Planet Fitness has recently garnered criticism in cases not involving religion as well. Staff at a Richmond, CA. branch asked a woman to cover up while working out because her body was too intimidating to others at the gym. Albert Argibay was kicked out of a Beacon, N.Y. Location for grunting while working out; grunting violates the chain’s policy of non-aggressive behavior.
When the August trial occurs, McDaniel will have to prove that the chain discriminated against her religion, by way of showing disrespect to her duties as a Muslim woman. Meanwhile, Planet Fitness will have to prepare for the lawsuit based on the premise that nothing that was requested can be classified as discrimination, religious or otherwise. In recent years, courts have sided with both the plaintiff and the defense, depending on circumstances.
By Ian Erickson
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