Baylor Health Care may fight discrimination charge

Posted on 27 May 2010 at 7:59pm
By John Wright | Online Editor wright@dallasvoicecom

Top executive indicates company won’t change gym policy after gay couple files discrimination complaint

Steven Johnson

A top executive at Baylor Health Care System suggested this week that the company plans to fight a charge of anti-gay discrimination, rather than reversing a policy that prohibits same-sex couples from purchasing family memberships at the Tom Landry Fitness Center.

Steven Johnson said he filed a complaint last week under Dallas’ nondiscrimination ordinance against the Tom Landry Fitness Center, after the Health Care System-owned gym refused to allow him to sign up his partner of 23 years as a family member.

In response to an online story about the complaint this week, the Health Care System’s senior vice president for consumer affairs sent an e-mail to Dallas Voice.

"There is now a significant amount of legal discussion about what the ordinance covers, and our attorneys are involved," wrote Jennifer Coleman, the VP for consumer affairs. "It will be a while before it is all sorted out. I will update you when I have something I can discuss."

Coleman didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

The director of the Tom Landry Fitness Center, Phil Tyne, has confirmed that the gym doesn’t allow same-sex couples to sign up for family memberships. Coleman, meanwhile, has said she planned to look into the policy but couldn’t promise that it would be changed.

Johnson said he filed the complaint last week with the city’s Fair Housing Office, which investigates complaints under the ordinance. The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations. Each violation is  punishable by a $500 fine.

"Hopefully out of all this will come some changes in their policy," Johnson said this week. "It’s just an example of the little things we [gay people] have to face every day."

Johnson said Baylor hasn’t contacted him since he was denied the family membership May 4. "They have not reached out at all," he said.

Johnson said he spoke with a city investigator when he filed the complaint.

"When I talked to him, he said he couldn’t give me anything absolute, but he said it sure sounded like it was a case," Johnson said. "He indicated that he thought there was a potential violation, but he couldn’t confirm anything yet."

Beverly Davis, director of the city’s Fair Housing Office, has said previously that she thinks it’s "possible" that the gym’s policy violates the ordinance. Davis has also indicated she was surprised to learn that a gym in Dallas would have such a policy in 2010.

Davis confirmed this week that her office has received Johnson’s complaint but declined to discuss the matter in detail.

"We plan on pursuing it aggressively and we’ll review all the relevant information and try to get it resolved as quickly as we can," Davis said.

After completing its investigation, the Fair Housing Office will turn over its findings to the City Attorney’s Office, to determine whether there is sufficient cause to prosecute the complaint. Mediation will also be offered to the parties during the process.

More than 40 complaints have been filed under the ordinance since it was passed by the City Council in 2002. However, the City Attorney’s Office has never prosecuted a complaint under the ordinance.

LGBT legal experts say the Health Care Center likely will argue that the gym policy is based on "marital status," not sexual orientation.

The City Attorney’s Office determined in a previous case that a landlord who refused to rent to a gay couple didn’t violate the ordinance, because the landlord’s policy was based on marital status. However, Davis said complaints are treated individually based on the facts of each case.

In the meantime, Johnson said he and his partner have signed up for a family membership at LA Fitness. He’ll still have to pay for his membership at the Tom Landry Fitness Center until September, but he said he doesn’t plan to go back there.   

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 28, 2010.

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