Gym faces lawsuit over Muslim head covering

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – An Albuquerque Planet Fitness refused to let a New Mexico Muslim woman wear her religious head covering when she tried to work out, according to a new lawsuit.

An attorney for Tarainia McDaniel, 37, recently filed the lawsuit in a New Mexico district court stemming after a 2011 clash that prevented McDaniel from using the gym, even though court documents said another Planet Fitness had previously let her, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

According to the lawsuit, McDaniel joined New Hampshire-based gym chain Planet Fitness in Albuquerque on a two-year contract and later transferred to another location. The lawsuit states that on Oct. 3, 2011, she was turned away at her new gym and was told the head covering didn’t meet its dress code.

McDaniel said she even offered to wear a hijab, the formal head covering.

Planet Fitness attorney Erika Anderson said the head covering violates the gym’s dress code policy. “My client’s position is that they didn’t know the head covering was for religious purposes,” Anderson said.

Anderson said she could not comment further on pending litigation.

McDaniel’s civil lawsuit, filed under the New Mexico Human Rights Act and the Unfair Practices Act, alleges that 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.

Planet Fitness, in its formal answer to the claims, denies violations of either the Human Rights Act or Unfair Practices Act. It says McDaniel failed to participate in good faith and that the company has legitimate business reasons for its practice as well as measures to prevent discrimination.

According to McDaniel’s deposition, she said the Quran “is pretty specific on covering your hair” and dressing modestly in clothes that fit loosely.

In the deposition, Anderson asked if McDaniel recalled a sign posted at Planet Fitness that said “no jeans, work boots, bandanas, skull caps or revealing apparel.”

According to the transcript, McDaniel acknowledged seeing the sign, but added, “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.”

When Anderson asked if she told them she was Muslim, McDaniel replied, “I sure did.”

In 2013, a federal appeals court dismissed claims by an Oklahoma Muslim woman who said she was not hired by retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because her headscarf conflicted with the company’s dress code. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleged in a lawsuit that Samantha Elauf, then 17, wasn’t hired in 2008 at an Abercrombie store in Tulsa’s Woodland Hills Mall because her hijab violated the retailer’s “Look Policy.”

But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Elauf never told Abercrombie she needed a religious accommodation, even though she was wearing the headscarf during her interview.

The Ohio-based company changed its policy four years ago. It recently settled similar lawsuits in California.

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