Metro Weekly

Michigan appeals court revives woman’s lawsuit against Planet Fitness for pro-transgender policy

Complainant's lawyers have 28 days to respond to gym's latest motion challenging finding that lawsuit can move forward

Photo: Dwight Burdette, via Wikimedia.

A gym franchise in Michigan is asking for a review of an appeals court decision allowing a former client to pursue a lawsuit against the gym for failing to inform her of their locker room policy regarding transgender people, reports Forbes Magazine.

Planet Fitness is objecting to a July decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals that allows Yvette Cormier to sue the gym chain for breach of contract, in violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, for terminating her membership. Cormier’s membership was terminated after she allegedly complained and caused a scene at the chain’s Midland, Mich., gym over the presence of a transgender woman in the women’s locker room.

Now that Planet Fitness has filed for an application for leave to appeal to contest the court of appeals’ finding, Cormier’s attorneys have 28 days to respond explaining why the appeals court’s decision should not be contested.

In March 2015, Planet Fitness revoked Cormier’s membership after she began complaining about the presence of the transgender woman in the women’s locker room, and the gym’s unwritten policy allowing people to use the locker room that corresponds to their gender identity.

Cormier then sued, alleging the gym had misrepresented the terms of its contract by not disclosing its pro-transgender policy, as well as invasion of privacy, embarrassment, humiliation and severe emotional distress, and damage to her reputation. She also claimed the gym’s policy was a form of sexual harassment and had caused her emotional distress. She sought damages of more than $25,000.

The trial court ruled against Cormier, who then appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The court of appeals agreed that she suffered no intrusion of privacy. But upon a second appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court found that the appeals court erred when it refused to consider Cormier’s claims alleging violations of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. As a result, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the appeals court to reconsider her claims.

In its decision, the court of appeals found that the trial court should consider Cormier’s claims under the MCPA, specifically that the gym should have informed her of its policy regarding transgender locker room use so she could decide whether to agree to the terms of her membership.

The three judge panel wrote: “‘A material fact for purposes of the MCPA would be one that is important to the transaction or affects the consumer’s decision to enter into the transaction.’ … [The] plaintiff’s allegations indicate that defendants failed to reveal facts (i.e., the existence of the unwritten self-identification policy) and that representations of fact were made in a positive manner (i.e., that there were separate locker rooms and restrooms for men and women). The question becomes, then, whether the fact that defendants failed to reveal, i.e., the existence of the unwritten self-identification policy, was material to the transaction.”

According to Michigan MLive Media, the transgender woman, Carlotta Sklodowska, claims she entered the women’s locker room only to hang up her coat and purse, and then retrieve items after her workout. Sklodowska is not a member of Planet Fitness, but was a guest of a friend. She claims she asked about the company’s locker room policy prior to entering, and was told by an employee that “You use the locker room that corresponds with how you are dressed.”

Sklodowska claims she wore leggings and a baggy T-shirt while at the gym. Cormier, on the other hand, claimed in her initial complaint that the person she saw was a man wearing a wig and men’s clothing, which is why she went to staff at Planet Fitness to complain about a man in the women’s locker room. Her lawyers have also cast doubt on whether Sklodowska is being sincere about her gender identity, or whether Planet Fitness has just adopted a policy that caters to transgender people due to political correctness.

The parties in the case are expected to appear in court on Sept. 20 for a preliminary hearing to determine whether Cormier can move forward with her lawsuit on the merits of the case.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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