Health Care System, one of area’s largest employers, found in violation of city of Dallas’ sexual orientation nondiscrimination ordinance
To avoid recognizing same-sex couples, the Baylor Health Care System has opted to eliminate all family memberships at its Tom Landry Fitness Center in Dallas, according to the city attorney’s office.
Alan Rodriguez filed a discrimination complaint with the city of Dallas in February 2011 after he and his partner were refused a family membership at the East Dallas gym because they are gay.
The city has now closed the case after finding Baylor guilty of discrimination, and the gym has stopped issuing family memberships, said Melissa Miles, an assistant city attorney who handles discrimination complaints.
Miles’ statements came after another city official initially said last week that the complaint was still pending despite Baylor’s decision to end family memberships.
A decade-old city ordinance prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The gym, owned by Baylor Health Care System, claimed it was a private religious organization and not a public accommodation. Baylor Health Care System is among North Texas’ largest employers, with 19,736 employees during the 2011 fiscal year, according to its website.
Miles, who personally reviews every case before the city attorney’s office renders a decision, said members of her office met with Baylor representatives, and they agreed to stop offering family memberships effective Oct. 1.
“We made the determination that they were in violation of the ordinance,” she said. “A short time later, they announced plans to eliminate all family memberships.”
She said the decision will prevent discrimination from occurring in the future and therefore the case won’t proceed to court, where Baylor could be charged with a class-C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.
“We believe that resolved the issue and we closed the file,” she said.
Miles said the fitness center is expected to have all current family memberships changed over to individual memberships by the end of the year.
Since it passed in 2002, 61 complaints have been filed under the ordinance, but none have been prosecuted. Of them, 38 have been dismissed for no cause, six for lack of jurisdiction and four because the complainant was uncooperative. Six cases, including the Baylor complaint, have reached reconciliation with the city, and six have reached outside settlements. One housing complaint is open and is currently being investigated.
Baylor Health Care System sent Dallas Voice a statement this week about the outcome of the case.
“The Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center has always welcomed a diverse membership,” the statement reads. “After receiving a complaint, and after discussions with the city, we reviewed our membership rate structure and decided that we needed to stay focused on our mission of promoting the health and wellness of our members and the communities we serve. Therefore we now offer one discounted rate to everybody.”
Baylor’s memberships do appear to be less expensive. Prior to the change, an individual membership was $95 and a family membership for a married couple was $165. Now each member pays a monthly fee of $55.
Rodriguez told Dallas Voice he hadn’t been informed that his case was closed or of Baylor’s decision to get rid of family memberships.
“While I’m happy the issue appears resolved, I’m also a little disappointed with the outcome,” he said. “It’s unfortunate Baylor decided to drop all family discounts to comply with the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. This is an unusual solution to their problem. Most heath clubs in Dallas offer family discounts to both same-sex and opposite-sex families.”
Rodriguez said he stopped wanting to join Tom Landry months ago, joining another gym closer to his home that offered him and his partner a family discount. He pursued the case because he thought Baylor was in the wrong by discriminating against them, he said.
“In the end, all Dallas families are diminished by Baylor’s intolerance,” Rodriguez said. “Dallas as a whole is also diminished when a prominent institution like Baylor resorts to such austere measures to follow a simple city ordinance. Ironically, an ordinance designed to foster tolerance, choice and personal freedom.”
Pam Gerber, a member of City Councilwoman Delia Jasso’s LGBT Task Force, said she thinks Baylor is taking the easy way out. While Gerber said the task force hadn’t discussed the Baylor case, members previously reviewed 53 complaints filed through February 2011 and determined that the city’s handling of the cases was appropriate.
“They can hide behind their fiscal prudence, but the reality is there’s some homophobia there,” Gerber said about the case’s outcome.
Rob Wiley, a gay Dallas discrimination attorney, said he would have liked to see the city prosecute the case because settlements rarely please both parties. He said Baylor deciding to end family memberships wasn’t surprising because they would never change a policy to be inclusive of the LGBT community.
“That’s who Baylor is. They are not going to change their stance on gays and lesbians,” Wiley said. “I wish the city would have had a bit more backbone and called them to task.”
Wiley said he was surprised that none of the cases have been prosecuted, adding that having the ordinance provided an avenue for investigation and education because a city can only do so much without a state or federal law.
He said the city would likely prosecute a case one day that involved a company with views similar to Baylor where “part of the corporate DNA is that gays and lesbians aren’t entitled to equal treatment.”
“If employers like Baylor don’t believe the city will take them to court, they will weasel their way out like Baylor did in this case,” Wiley said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 26, 2012.