Use of Gender-Identifying Facilities Does Not Give Rise to Tort Claims

Recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on a case involving transgender rights, and the effect of allowing persons who self-identify as a certain sex to use whichever locker-room they deem fit. Cormier v. Pf Fitness-Midland, 2017 Mich App LEXIS 893, *7, involved a suit brought forth by a woman who believed that her rights were violated when she noticed that a transgender man was present in the women’s locker-room. Upon learning of the person’s biological identity, the woman complained to the Planet Fitness staff, who responded by stating that Planet Fitness was an inclusionary company who would not ban a person from using facilities which aligned with their sexual identity.

In response, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging: “invasion of privacy; sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, MCL 37.2301 et seq.; breach of contract; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.” Id. at 2. Defendants then moved for and were granted judgment as a matter of law. Plaintiff appealed on the grounds of improper dismissal.

The Court of Appeals evaluated the claims presented and subsequently dismissed them by determining that there was no sexual harassment nor violation of the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act through retaliation. The Court could find no reason to conclude that sexual harassment occurred through the mere presence of a biological male in the women’s locker-room. It reasoned that no unwanted sexual advances occurred, and that Plaintiff was not engaged in a protected activity. The Court concluded that while Plaintiff may have a reasonable expectation of privacy, the fact that this occurred in a public space coupled with the lack of an involuntary exposure, prevents Plaintiff from obtaining relief. More simply put, the court found that while an invasion of privacy claim may have been Plaintiff’s best claim, the fact that she did not actually undress and instead left the locker-room, prevents her from moving forward with this suit. Furthermore, the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim was struck down with the words that, “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.” Id. at 18.

The breach of contract claim also failed due to an improper assertion of Civil Rights Act violations during pleadings, and a failure to show that allowing biological males to enter the locker-room was a material fact which should have been disclosed during the signing of the membership agreement. Based on this ruling, it appears that allowing customers to use bathrooms or facilities associated with their sexual identity does not necessarily make your business liable to uncomfortable patrons.

This article was written by Nezar Habhab, Law Clerk.

Tags: , , , , , ,