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

OUTRAGE: Baylor Health Care System confirms that it doesn’t consider your family a family

Jennifer Coleman

Jennifer Coleman, senior vice president of consumer affairs for the Baylor Health Care System, has yet to respond to our request for comment from Wednesday about the Tom Landry Fitness Center’s policy of blatantly discriminating against same-sex couples.

However, Coleman did respond to a letter from Alan Rodriguez, the gay East Dallas resident who’s planning to file a discrimination complaint against the Baylor-owned Fitness Center for refusing to sell a family membership to him and his partner of 10 years.

“Thank you for your e-mail and phone call,” Coleman wrote in an e-mail to Rodriguez, which he provided to Instant Tea. “The Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center offers, and will continue to offer, a family discount to a husband and wife pursuant to the Texas law definition of marriage. The fitness center is a private membership health club that is open to all applicants who meet membership criteria that are non-discriminatory. The fitness center has and welcomes a diverse membership.”

We’ve heard several people in the LGBT community comment that if the Fitness Center wants to discriminate against same-sex couples, people should simply take their money and memberships elsewhere.

And while this is certainly true, there are a few other problems: One, the Baylor Health Care System operates a dozen medical facilities in North Texas alone, which is downright scary in light of this policy; and two, the city of Dallas has an ordinance that prohibits this type of discrimination — in the same way that state and federal law prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of things like race.

Unfortunately, the city doesn’t seem to want to enforce the ordinance. As we’ve said repeatedly, more than 40 c0mplaints have been filed since the ordinance passed in 2002, but not one has every been prosecuted by the city.

Steven Johnson, a gay man who filed a discrimination complaint against the Tom Landry Fitness Center last year, says he withdrew it after city officials advised him that the gym is exempt from the ordinance because it’s a private club.

But that’s a bunch of bullshit. The ordinance provides no exception for private clubs.

We’ve been playing phone tag with Beverly Davis of the city’s Fair Housing Office, which is charged with investigating complaints under the ordinance, to find out whether it’s true that officials advised Johnson to withdraw his complaint.

We’ll let you know when we get in touch with Davis and/or Coleman.

In case you’re wondering, Coleman can be reached by e-mail at jennifco@BaylorHealth.edu.

—  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

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