Crunch Gym in El Cajon Will Pay Settlement, Train Staff
SAN DIEGO – Christynne Wood was devoted to her workouts at the gym now known as Crunch Fitness in El Cajon, California. She lost more than 100 pounds, as urgently advised by medical personnel, and made several friends among staffers and patrons.
But nine years into her membership, when she informed the gym’s management that she was in the process of transitioning to female, Wood’s relationship with Crunch radically changed. Management refused to allow her use of the women’s locker room and restroom, even though that was clearly her right under California law.
Today, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and the law firm Nixon Peabody LLP announce the settlement of a discrimination lawsuit filed on Wood’s behalf in 2018 by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Wood will receive a payment and the gym has agreed that all its employees will undergo anti-discrimination training, including the identification and prevention of harassment based on gender expression.
“I feel elated and validated to finally reach resolution in this case,” Wood said. “I hope the settlement helps the owners of Crunch and other gyms appreciate the importance of respecting transgender people’s identities. It’s not only our legal right, but also could save a life.”
The discrimination Christynne experienced is not unusual; a study conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA found that nearly 70 percent of transgender people have experienced discrimination when trying to use public restrooms.
And it’s against the law in California. The Unruh Civil Rights Act bans discrimination based on “a person’s gender identity and gender expression,” and goes on to define gender expression as “a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.”
California law mandates that trans people have access to the restroom and locker room that align with their gender identity.
“No one should have to endure the indignity and harassment that Crunch Fitness inflicted on Christynne,” said Aditi Fruitwala, staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “Thanks to Christynne’s moxie and courage to come forward and fight for her rights, a clear message has been sent to businesses.”
Early in life Wood, now in her 60s, realized that her gender identity was female, but she didn’t feel comfortable expressing that publicly until becoming more acquainted with the LGBTQ community and gaining confidence about identifying as a transgender woman. She began transitioning to female with the support of health care providers.
But there were incidences of harassment, including at Crunch Fitness where a man approached Wood in the men’s locker room, smiling and grabbing his genitals. Wood fled the locker room and reported the incident to a gym manager, but as near as she could tell, no action was taken.
Wood requested use of the women’s facilities but was told she needed to obtain a doctor’s verification of her transitioning. On Sept. 30, 2016, she presented a letter that not only confirmed her treatments, but also stated it was “very important” she be able to use the women’s facilities.
Still, she was denied them. In October 2016, Wood was given free access to use a premium locker room, but it was a men’s facility. Even after she obtained a Superior Court order legally changing her name and gender, Crunch Fitness refused to let her use the women’s locker room.
It was only after another men’s locker room harassment incident – a man referred to her as a “fucking faggot” – that Wood was finally allowed access to the women’s facilities. This was on Sept. 15, 2017, almost an entire year after Wood presented the doctor’s letter.
The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed the initial lawsuit against the gym in 2018.
“DFEH brought suit in this case under the California Unruh Civils Right Act to vindicate the essential right of transgender Californians to live their lives free from discrimination,” said DFEH director Kevin Kish. “Today’s settlement ensures that no Californian will face the discrimination Ms. Wood experienced in the future at this establishment.”
The ACLU SoCal, ACLU-SDIC, and law firm Nixon Peabody later joined the lawsuit.
Since the events described in the lawsuit, the ownership and management of the gym has changed. Wood remains a member and user of the gym.