Planet Fitness Transgender Lawsuit Heads To Michigan Supreme Court

Yvette Cormier is taking her anti - transgender lawsuit against Planet Fitness to the Michigan Supreme Court

Following an unsuccessful lawsuit and appeal against “no judgement” gym Planet Fitness, a Michigan woman is taking her case to the state Supreme Court to argue that she shouldn’t be forced to share locker rooms with transgender women. The complainant – Yvette Cormier – misgendered the trans woman in question (Carlotta Sklowdowska) throughout lower court hearings arguing she was a man attempting to use female-segregated facilities.

After Cormier repeatedly harassed other gym members over Sklowdowska’s presence for several days, Planet Fitness eventually revoked her membership for violating their contractual terms in maintaining a “judgement free zone.”

Thereafter, Cormier sued.

Basing her 2015 lawsuit in the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (which mirrors the federal level Civil Rights Act in many aspects), Cormier alleged her rights were violated by Planet Fitness through their punitive action in cancelling her membership.

In January 2016, Midland County Circuit Court Judge Michael J Beale initially dismissed her case for lack of merits.

Beale’s opinion states “there was no intrusion upon the solitude or seclusion of the plaintiff by the presence of the clothed male in the common area of the restroom.”

Judge Beale also said the plaintiff failed to show she was subjected to “quid pro quo” sexual harassment since she did not receive unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature.

Thereafter, Cormier appealed. That decision concurred with the lower court decision. According to Metro Weekly:

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that a woman who claimed her privacy had been violated by being forced to share a communal locker room with a transgender woman was not sexually harassed and did not suffer emotional distress from the incident.

But in a unanimous 3-0 decision, the court said it found no evidence of sexual harassment, or that Cormier suffered emotional distress because of Planet Fitness’ policy. It also found that the club was within its rights to terminate Cormier’s membership after she created a scene by trying to warn other women of the presence of a transgender woman in the locker room.

In its opinion upholding a lower court’s finding, the court noted that both Cormier and the transgender woman had been wearing clothes when they were in the locker room together, and that the transgender woman made no sexual advances toward Cormier.

The unanimous appeals court decision said in part:

“[Michigan’s civil rights act] does not define sexual harassment as being subjected to an opportunity for a person to engage in verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature,” the judges opined. “Rather the CRA requires that the sexual conduct or communication substantially interfered with the plaintiff’s utilization of public accommodations. It follows that plaintiff must have actually experienced the conduct or communication she complains of.”

It added:

“Transgender rights and policies are polarizing issues and each individual may have a feeling on the issue and on what locker room such individuals should be using. Regardless of whether an average member of the community may find the policy outrageous, the fact is that plaintiff did not suffer severe emotional distress as a matter of law,” the opinion reads.

“One encounter with a biological male in a women’s locker room, both persons clothed, does not constitute ‘distress . . . so severe that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it.’ Indeed, the plaintiff continued to visit the gym and would thoroughly check the women’s locker room for biological males apparently ready to experience such an encounter again.”

The case will now go to the state Supreme Court.

Perhaps more disconcerting than the hypocrisy in an anti-LGBTQ conservative arguing a business should not be allowed to maintain their own policies when it comes to serving LGBTQ people (especially as that same group of people are set to have a case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in allowing businesses to set their own LGBTQ policies, especially if their personal religious beliefs dictate they must discriminate against entire classes of people) are the actual facts in this case.

Carlotta Sklowdowska – the transgender woman referenced (and misgendered) throughout this case – never actually used the Planet Fitness locker rooms to change clothes or shower. Rather, she dropped off her jacket and purse during each of the two times she visited the gym as a guest with a friend who had a membership there.

Based on the two encounters she had with Cormier – both of which she was fully dressed and merely there to hang or retrieve her purse and jacket – Sklowdowska was accused of invasion of privacy.

Both the lower and appeals court took note of this in their decision to side with Planet Fitness. The Michigan Court of Appeals said in their unanimous opinion that Cormier “failed to plead factual allegations showing that she was actually subjected to verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature (i.e., that her rights were violated).”

Referring to her claims of invasion of privacy, they said, “She has simply not alleged an intrusion of that privacy.” They added, “Even though plaintiff did not agree with the policy, her use of the locker room after her knowledge of the policy constituted consent to any intrusion, defeating her claim of invasion of privacy.”

By continuing to use the gym’s facilities after her alleged invasion and emotional distress, Cormier repeatedly returned to the gym and to the locker room looking for Sklowdowska and asking others about her presence there. She acted not as a victim but as an oppressor seeking to exact harm or vengeance on Sklowdowska for what she viewed as a being a man in a woman’s locker room.

Moreover, in both of her court cases against the gym and its policies, Cormier trotted out the debunked “for the safety of women and children” argument that allowing transgender persons to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity will somehow allow, condone or encourage sexual predators to sexually assault women and children. Despite the fact that this has never materialized in any jurisdiction with trans protections in the decades those protections have been on the books, and despite that argument’s near-exact-replication of identical arguments against gay men as being sexual predators (for the sole purpose of arguing against LGBTQ rights), anti-LGBTQ conservatives still seem to believe courts will accept the argument on its face.

This is the face of the anti-LGBTQ movement in 2017: a group of people that want to legalize a right for businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people, but who also want to bar LGBTQ-friendly businesses from being able to equally serve LGBTQ customers.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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