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

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.

—  Anna Waugh

UPDATE: City still reviewing complaint of anti-gay discrimination against Baylor-owned gym

The city of Dallas is in “the final stages” of reviewing an allegation of anti-gay discrimination against the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center, a city official told Instant Tea this week.

Gay Dallas resident Alan Rodriguez filed a complaint in January against the Fitness Center, after the popular East Dallas gym refused to offer a family membership to Rodriguez and his longtime partner.

Rodriguez’s complaint was filed under a Dallas ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. Rodriguez said he has declined an offer from the city’s Fair Housing Office, which handles discrimination complaints, to enter arbitration.

“I don’t know that there’s any room to compromise,” Rodriguez said. “There’s not middle ground to reach to.”

In a letter he penned to a Baylor executive before filing the complaint, Rodriguez accused the Fitness Center of “draconian and bigoted practices” that are “unthinkable in 2011.”

In response to Rodriguez’s email, the Baylor executive confirmed that the Fitness Center offers family memberships only “to a husband and wife pursuant to the Texas law definition of marriage.” Baylor’s attorneys reportedly are arguing that the Fitness Center is a private health club and not a public accommodation.

Jennifer Coleman, senior vice president of consumer affairs for the Baylor Health Care System, declined further comment this week.

Beverly Davis, director of the Fair Housing Office, said she is unsure when officials will decide whether to prosecute Rodriguez’s complaint.

“All I can tell you is that it’s in the final stages of review,” Davis said. “I wish I could give you a definite date, but right now I don’t have a definite date.”

Rodriguez’s complaint is one of more than 50 that have been filed under the nondiscrimination ordinance since it took effect in 2002. However, none of the complaints has ever been prosecuted by the city. Each violation of the ordinance punishable by a fine of up to $500.

—  John Wright

Pink Noise: The Dallas Voice Podcast

In this week’s episode, Rich Lopez and I talk about anti-gay discrimination by the Baylor Health Care System; follow up on the Club Dallas raid; discuss plans for Buli Cafe to become a piano bar; comment on Out Magazine’s 100 Most Eligible Bachelors; and more. Listen by going here.

—  John Wright

Gay couple accuses Baylor-owned gym of ‘draconian and bigoted practices’

For the second time in less than a year, a popular East Dallas gym owned by Baylor Health Care System is under fire for blatantly discriminating against gay couples.

Last May, a gay couple filed a discrimination complaint against the Tom Landry Fitness Center, which has a stated policy of refusing to offer family memberships to same-sex couples. The couple’s complaint was filed under a city of Dallas ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.

However, the couple later withdrew the complaint after they said city officials told them the Tom Landry Fitness Center may be exempt from the ordinance because it’s a private club.

Now, another gay couple plans to file its own discrimination complaint against the Fitness Center if the policy isn’t reversed. Alan Rodriguez, who recently moved to Dallas with his partner of 10 years, says he was told by the director of the Fitness Center that Baylor defines family as “one man and one woman.”

Rodriguez, who’s renovating a home on Gaston Avenue with his partner, said he chooses to live and work in Dallas largely because of the ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination. He also said he goes to the Fitness Center for allergy shots and considers the gym a “neighborhood friend,” but was shocked to learn about the family membership policy.

“It is clear Baylor has taken the position to discriminate against gay people with respect to family gym membership. It is also clear Baylor has a regimented policy excluding domestic partners from the definition of ‘family,’” Rodriguez wrote Tuesday in a letter to a Baylor executive that was also sent to Instant Tea. “Therefore, I must conclude your organization also believes it lawful to discriminate against gay people regarding other medical services. Clearly, your organization considers this policy a legal form of discrimination. It remains unclear the extent to which this policy permeates all Baylor operations. Such draconian and bigoted practices are unthinkable in 2011.”

—  John Wright

Baylor hospital should follow University of Memphis' example on anti-gay gym policy

We’re patiently awaiting the outcome of the discrimination complaint that was filed recently against the Baylor Health Care System’s Tom Landry Fitness Center. In the meantime, perhaps we can take hope from the above story out of Memphis, about a lesbian couple who fought the University of Memphis over the exact same issue — and won.

—  John Wright

Baylor to fight complaint alleging anti-gay discrimination instead of changing gym policy

A top executive at Baylor Health Care System suggested today 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 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 Instant Tea post Monday about Johnson’s complaint, the Health Care System’s senior vice president for consumer affairs sent an e-mail to Dallas Voice today.

“John, saw your story about Mr. Johnson’s complaint,” Jennifer Coleman said in the e-mail. “There is now a  significant amount of legal discussion about what the ordinance covers, and our attorneys are involved. It will be a while before it is all sorted out. I will update you when I have something I can discuss.”

My response to Coleman’s e-mail was as follows:

“So in other words Baylor is fighting the complaint on legal grounds rather than just changing the policy? Wouldn’t that be a much easier solution? It seems like this situation can only get worse from a PR standpoint for Baylor.”

As I’ve said previously, there is some question about whether the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination based on marital status. The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations.

I would argue that because gay and lesbian couples can’t legally marry in Texas, discrimination based on marital status is discrimination based on sexual orientation. But in the past the city has taken the opposite position, upholding a landlord’s right to refuse to rent to unmarried (gay) couples.

But my real point is this: Regardless of the legal outcome of the complaint, Baylor loses.

—  John Wright

Gay couple files discrimination complaint with city of Dallas against Baylor Tom Landry gym

Steven Johnson
Steven Johnson

A gay couple that was denied a family membership at a gym owned by Baylor Health Care System has filed a complaint under the city of Dallas’ nondiscrimination ordinance.

Steven Johnson said he filed the complaint last week with the city’s Fair Housing Office, which investigates alleged violations of the 2002 ordinance. The ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Earlier this month, Johnson tried to sign up his partner of 23 years as a family member at the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center. Sales representatives at the gym refused, and the facility’s director later confirmed that it doesn’t offer family memberships to same-sex couples.

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

—  John Wright

Is gym policy just the tip of the anti-gay iceberg at Baylor hospital in Dallas?

Steven Johnson was denied a family membership for his partner of 23 years
Steven Johnson was denied a family membership for his partner of 23 years

I finally got ahold of Jennifer Coleman, the Baylor Health Care System’s senior vice president for consumer affairs, to talk about the Tom Landry Fitness Center’s policy barring gays and lesbians from signing up their domestic partners as family members.

As I reported in today’s Voice, the Health Care System-owned Fitness Center refused to allow a gay couple of 23 years to sign up for a family membership earlier this week. This is a possible violation of the city of Dallas’ nondiscrimination ordinance, and the couple is calling on the LGBT community to boycott the 7,000-member gym. (Most members are among the system’s 15,000 employees.)

Coleman said she just learned about the situation this morning.

“Were going to look and see about that policy, what it says, and then I’m not sure what we’re going to do next,” Coleman said. “I can’t commit to changing it, because that’s not a decision for me to make, but something for us to look into. It’s unfortunate that this thing came up this way, but I can commit [that] we’ll sure look into it.”

—  John Wright

Senior VP at Baylor responds to gay couple being denied family gym membership

Jennifer Coleman
Jennifer Coleman

Jennifer Coleman, Baylor Health Care System’s senior vice president for consumer affairs, has commented on the below post about the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center’s refusal to allow gay couples to sign up for family memberships. For my full story on the situation, go here.

I’ve tried calling Coleman in response to her comments, but her assistant tells me she’s at a two-day conference and unavailable. Well, apparently not too unavailable to comment on this blog, but anyhow, it sounds like Coleman is working to address the problem. After the jump, find out what she’s said.

—  John Wright