City releases file from complaint against Baylor for anti-gay discrimination

Posted on 09 Nov 2012 at 3:39pm
Baylor

Alan Rodriguez, right, filed a complaint with the city in February 2011 after the Tom Landry Fitness Center refused to issue him and his partner a family membership. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

The Dallas city attorney’s office has released most of its records related to a complaint against Baylor’s Tom Landry Fitness Center filed under the city’s sexual orientation nondiscrimination ordinance.

After few answers from the city attorney’s office about why we weren’t permitted to view the file a few weeks ago, we were told earlier this week we could view the file, except for some communications that were considered protected by attorney-client privilege. The city has asked the Texas attorney general’s office to review that information and render an opinion about whether it should be released.

In October, the city attorney’s office said the case was closed after officials with Baylor Health Care System agreed to end all family memberships. Alan Rodriguez and his longtime partner were denied a family membership discount in February 2011 because they are a same-sex couple, and they filed a complaint under the ordinance, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.

The city attorney’s office closed the case in exchange for Baylor’s commitment to end all family memberships. But a timeline of when discussions about ending the memberships took place wasn’t provided, nor was it contained in the file we reviewed today.

According to the file, Baylor’s representatives continued to request that the case be dismissed on the grounds that Tom Landry is a private club and a religious organization — and that Baylor recognizes married couples as outlined by Texas law. The case was sent to the city attorney in mid-June 2011, and the last date on on a request for information from the city attorney’s office is Oct. 19, 2011.

The final investigative report was completed Nov. 3, 2011, and mentioned that Baylor would have to prove a specific membership to be considered a religious organization, and that the ordinance doesn’t protect private clubs, only religious and government entities.

Another same-sex couple tried to get the family discount in early 2010, but a complaint was never filed, the records show. The fitness center had a flawed system for determining whether couples were married before issuing family memberships.

The city took two random samplings of applicants for family memberships at the Fitness Center. The first looked at 30 files and found four couples who had different last names and no documentation of marriage.

According to an affidavit from a Baylor employee who said she reviews memberships and flags them if couples do not have the same last name or address, and if they are not listed as the emergency contact and as a spouse, which appeared to be the only qualifications for the family discount.

Another random sampling of 120 couples who joined from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011 found 19 family memberships and only one that wasn’t consistent with the requirements outlined by Baylor. Further investigation found that the couple had different last names and the woman listed the man as her husband when the man listed the woman as his fiancée. The couple joined the gym in July but were later married in August.

The report is the last entry in the case file, so the timeline is still unclear for when the decision for Baylor to end family memberships was made after the fitness center was found in violation of the ordinance.

Phil Tyne, director of the Tom Landry Fitness Center, told Dallas Voice in October that the gym had switched to only offering individual memberships three months prior to October but he didn’t know whether the decision was related to the discrimination case, even though he is listed as a respondent on communications from the beginning in the file.

But Melissa Miles, senior assistant attorney with the city’s attorney’s office, told Dallas Voice the next week that officials had met with Baylor and they agreed to end the memberships on Oct. 1 of this year.

Miles said the delay in releasing the Baylor file was due to the fact that her office was reviewing a newly discovered issue related to Texas’ Public Information Act. Four years ago, following a request from Dallas Voice, the attorney general’s office issued an opinion saying records related to complaints filed under the nondiscrimination ordinance are public. However, Miles said the opinion didn’t take into consideration the fact that discrimination complaints are class-C misdemeanor criminal investigations.

Miles said according to Texas law, when a criminal case doesn’t result in a conviction or a deferred adjudication, it’s the city’s discretion whether to release related records. In this case the attorney’s office determined there was no reason not to release the file.

“Consistent with how we treat other criminal investigations, we then determined that we would release it. It’s in our discretion … but we’re releasing it,” Miles said. “It’s a criminal case. We don’t want to do anything different than we do in every other criminal case, and we just had to run that down.”

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