Legislature(1999 - 2000)

03/06/2000 03:28 PM House L&C

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 176 - SEX DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTH CLUBS                                                                                   
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG  announced the first order of  business would be                                                              
CS FOR  SENATE BILL  NO. 176(RLS), "An  Act permitting  a physical                                                              
fitness facility  to limit public  accommodation to only  males or                                                              
only females."                                                                                                                  
Number 0096                                                                                                                     
SENATOR  DRUE PEARCE, Alaska  State Legislature,  came forward  to                                                              
testify as the sponsor of CSSB 176(RLS).  She stated:                                                                           
     Senate  Bill 176  allows  gender-based  health clubs  to                                                                   
     provide services  to members wishing to exercise  in the                                                                   
     presence  of only persons  of their  own gender.   Under                                                                   
     the  Alaska Constitution,  Article  1,  Section 22,  the                                                                   
     right of the  people to privacy is recognized  and shall                                                                   
     not be infringed.                                                                                                          
     The  Alaska  Human  Rights Commission  [AHRC]  filed  an                                                                   
     action  against the  Anchorage  Women's  Club last  year                                                                   
     stating  the club unlawfully  discriminates against  men                                                                   
     because  the club  is a place  of public  accommodation.                                                                   
     The  AHRC based their  decision on  AS 18.80.230,  which                                                                   
     states that in places of "accommodation"  it is unlawful                                                                   
     to refuse,  withhold from,  or deny to  a person  any of                                                                   
     its  services,  goods,  or   facilities  based  on  sex.                                                                   
     However,   health  clubs  are   not  referenced   in  AS                                                                   
     18.80.300  (14), which is  the list  of places that  are                                                                   
     places of public accommodation.                                                                                            
     Senate Bill  176 establishes  that health clubs  are not                                                                   
     designed  for public  accommodation and  have no  public                                                                   
     policy  interests.   Gender-based health  clubs offer  a                                                                   
     secluded  environment allowing  people to  feel more  at                                                                   
     ease in what is often an intimidating  setting.  Through                                                                   
     this measure,  Alaska will recognize the  unique setting                                                                   
     of  a male-only  or  female-only  health club  based  on                                                                   
     membership  and  employment.     This  bill  in  no  way                                                                   
     excludes   any  individual   from  the  opportunity   to                                                                   
     exercise or work at a co-ed  health club if he or she so                                                                   
Number 0257                                                                                                                     
     I   introduced  the   legislation  on   behalf  of   the                                                                   
     [Anchorage]  Women's Club,  which  is the  club that  is                                                                   
     being  held   with  a  big  question  mark   over  their                                                                   
     facility.   It's  a facility  in  Anchorage, a  physical                                                                   
     fitness facility, that is open  to women as members, and                                                                   
     it has female employees.  In  1998, an Anchorage man was                                                                   
     denied  membership in  this  club based  on his  gender,                                                                   
     since  the ...  club caters  exclusively to  women.   He                                                                   
     filed  a   complaint  to   the  [Alaska]  Human   Rights                                                                   
     Commission.     He  later  dropped  his  claim   to  the                                                                   
     commission,  but they  went  ahead, opened  a case,  and                                                                   
     voted  that the  women's  club violated  [AS]  18.80.230                                                                   
     which   (indisc.)   the  list   of  places   of   public                                                                   
     accommodation that I mentioned.                                                                                            
     This  bill   merely  clarifies  that  physical   fitness                                                                   
     facilities would not fit in  that list.  There are other                                                                   
     states  who have  gone the  same direction  that we  are                                                                   
     proposing here.   There's no  state or federal  court or                                                                   
     legislative   body  in  the   United  States  that   has                                                                   
     prohibited   the  operation   of  same-gender   physical                                                                   
     fitness facilities.  Illinois,  New Jersey and Tennessee                                                                   
     explicitly      authorize      same-gender      centers.                                                                   
     Pennsylvania,  Colorado, New  York and Hawaii  authorize                                                                   
     the  existence  of  same-gender   fitness  and  wellness                                                                   
     One of the  reasons, Mr. Chairman, that we  believe that                                                                   
     there's  a privacy interest,  but also,  if you will,  a                                                                   
     public interest in having facilities  able to be open to                                                                   
     women only or  to men only, I don't have  to tell anyone                                                                   
     here  that  Americans,  as a  group,  are  getting  less                                                                   
     healthy.   We're getting less  exercise and  doctors who                                                                   
     try to get  people to join health clubs find  that it is                                                                   
     an intimidating  setting.  It is particularly  difficult                                                                   
     to get women  to join health clubs, and so  I think that                                                                   
     these clubs in Anchorage serve  a very important purpose                                                                   
     for the health of the individuals who are members.                                                                         
     I believe  that we  dealt with all  of the questions  to                                                                   
     make  sure  that  we  didn't  catch  gymnasiums  somehow                                                                   
     without  meaning   to.    Over   on  the  Senate   side,                                                                   
     gymnasiums  are not mentioned.   We've gone  through the                                                                   
     language in a number of permutations,  and I think we've                                                                   
     handled all of those questions of vagueness.                                                                               
Number 0446                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  TOM   BRICE  asked  Senator  Pearce   whether  the                                                              
language  in  CSHB 176(RLS)  is  specific  enough in  relation  to                                                              
expressing a public need in order  to withstand a court challenge.                                                              
SENATOR  PEARCE   replied  that   there  is   a  list   of  public                                                              
accommodations in  state statute.   The law clearly says  a person                                                              
cannot  discriminate in  those  places of  public  accommodations.                                                              
The  bill clarifies  that physical  fitness facilities  are not  a                                                              
part  of  that  list  and  therefore   should  withstand  a  court                                                              
Number 0538                                                                                                                     
DAN COFFEY,  Attorney at  Law, testified  via teleconference  from                                                              
Anchorage.   He stated that  he represented the  Anchorage Women's                                                              
Club in the AHRC action.  He commented:                                                                                         
     We prepared  and submitted to  the committee and  to the                                                                   
     full  House  [of  Representatives],   for  that  matter,                                                                   
     what's been  documented as a  memo to legislators  dated                                                                   
     December   19,  1999,  which   contains  a  variety   of                                                                   
     information on what has happened  in other jurisdictions                                                                   
     where this same issue has been considered.                                                                                 
     During  the  course  of  this  process,  we  have  heard                                                                   
     nothing   that   hasn't   been   considered   in   other                                                                   
     jurisdictions.    The lines,  if  you would,  are  drawn                                                                   
     clearly here  as between the reasons why  this should be                                                                   
     permitted and  those who argue  against it,  the reasons                                                                   
     they believe it should not be permitted.                                                                                   
     There's  clearly  a question  of  balancing  here.   Mr.                                                                   
     Chairman,   we  believe   that  there   would  be   some                                                                   
     legitimate  concerns, things  like the proliferation  of                                                                   
     men-only clubs  and loss of  some of the gains  that ...                                                                   
     people  have  made over  the  last  10  or 20  years  in                                                                   
     eliminating gender  discrimination; and there's  nothing                                                                   
     about this bill  that would permit that to  occur in the                                                                   
     manner that their fears are  stated to you, and to us as                                                                   
     we listen  to them.  So,  we believe that when  you come                                                                   
     to  balance the  right  to privacy  and  the needs  that                                                                   
     Senator Pearce identified, [those]  clearly outweigh the                                                                   
     potential  and,  we  believe, unlikely  risks  that  the                                                                   
     opponents of this legislation voice to you.                                                                                
Number 0689                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE ANDREW HALCRO referred  to a letter included in the                                                              
bill packet [from  Robert Tanenbaum, Licensed  Psychologist] which                                                              
states that  some women, based  upon their religious  beliefs, are                                                              
forbidden from  exercising in the presence  of men.  He  asked Mr.                                                              
Coffey whether the Anchorage Women's  Club has experienced this as                                                              
one of the reasons for having a women-only club.                                                                                
MR. COFFEY  said he is  not familiar with  that.  He  deferred the                                                              
question to the owner and operator  of the Anchorage Women's Club.                                                              
Number 0758                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG asked  what the rationale was for  making a turn                                                              
in the direction of the definition of "public accommodation."                                                                   
MR.  COFFEY answered  that the  idea is  that it  falls under  the                                                              
right of privacy in the state constitution.  He said:                                                                           
     The question is:  Do we permit  women, particularly, and                                                                   
     men,  if they so  choose, particularly,  to exercise  in                                                                   
     the presence  of only  their own gender  for all  of the                                                                   
     reasons  that are  listed and  put forth  in that  memo,                                                                   
     including the  studies done  by Robert Tanenbaum  and so                                                                   
     forth?  And,  on the other hand, we have  a statute that                                                                   
     says,   unclearly   at   best,  that   you   shall   not                                                                   
     discriminate  in  gender and  sex  in places  of  public                                                                   
     accommodation.  The statute  then goes on to list places                                                                   
     of  public  accommodation.     It  doesn't  list  health                                                                   
     facilities,  but  it  says "and  others",  or  something                                                                   
     along those lines.  So, it's  sort of a catch-all at the                                                                   
     The  question  I think  that  is legitimately  posed  by                                                                   
     Senator  Pearce and  her testimony  is:   Do we want  to                                                                   
     specifically   exclude   these    places   from   public                                                                   
     accommodations  and   clarify  the  statute?     And  in                                                                   
     reaching   that   decision,  then   you   have  to   ask                                                                   
     yourselves,  I  think,  the   legitimate  public  policy                                                                   
     questions:   What  is  the benefit?    And  what is  the                                                                   
     downside  of doing  this?   Some of  the downsides  have                                                                   
     been argued; well, then, you'll  find a proliferation of                                                                   
     men's clubs, and we'll step  back to the time when women                                                                   
     were excluded  from ... the  business decisions  and the                                                                   
     social atmosphere that occurred  at ... private men-only                                                                   
     Well, those  concerns, like  I say, have been  addressed                                                                   
     in  every other  jurisdiction that's  considered it  and                                                                   
     the facts, again, are in this  memo, but they show there                                                                   
     has not  been   a proliferation of  men-only clubs.   In                                                                   
     fact,  the  fears  that the  people  have  talked  about                                                                   
     haven't occurred  ... when you  balance the  two issues,                                                                   
     the  right  to privacy  versus  the potential  fears,  I                                                                   
     think what you  find is that the privacy  rights and the                                                                   
     things  that are intended  on that  far outweigh what  I                                                                   
     believe   to  be   unfounded   fears   about  some   bad                                                                   
     consequences, ...  and that's what we've heard  from the                                                                   
     opponents of this:  "Oh, there'll  be bad consequences."                                                                   
     In fact, the  history shows, no, there haven't  been bad                                                                   
Number 0949                                                                                                                     
JOHN  SANKEY,   Owner,  Anchorage  Women's  Club,   testified  via                                                              
teleconference  from   Anchorage.    He  stated  that   he  has  a                                                              
Bachelor's of Science  Degree in Nursing and a  Master's Degree in                                                              
Psychiatric Nursing.  He commented:                                                                                             
     My background  was in those  areas that you refer  to as                                                                   
     recovery  areas.   I  have developed  smoking  cessation                                                                   
     programs and  presented them to the city  [of Anchorage]                                                                   
     and  to people  up on  the Slope  and  have worked  with                                                                   
     people in  the areas of  recovery from alcohol  and drug                                                                   
     I  became involved  in the  weight-loss  field about  11                                                                   
     years ago.   Probably 95  percent of the clients  coming                                                                   
     to the  weight loss  clinic were women  and it tells  me                                                                   
     that these women were in a recovery  process.  There was                                                                   
     more to  what was  going on  there than simply  reducing                                                                   
     their caloric  intake.  Over  a period of time,  I would                                                                   
     meet  with them  on a  one-to-one  basis or  in a  group                                                                   
     setting and I would (indisc.)  encourage exercise as one                                                                   
     of the  steps in  this recovery  process to lose  weight                                                                   
     and, more importantly,  to keep weight off.   Almost all                                                                   
     the women refused  to go to any of the clubs  in town at                                                                   
     that time,  because they were  co-ed and they  were just                                                                   
     too, some  would say,  ashamed of  their bodies and  too                                                                   
     just self-conscious of their appearance.                                                                                   
     As time went on, the building  that I'm in, space became                                                                   
     available,  and I  built a women's-only  fitness   club.                                                                   
     Prior to  building it, though,  I did do some  research,                                                                   
     went back and  found out that all the other  states here                                                                   
     in the country  have women's-only clubs, that  some were                                                                   
     tested in court, and they had  passed.  And with that in                                                                   
     mind,  I  thought:   Well,  this is  fine.   I  built  a                                                                   
     fitness  club for  women only,  and it's  been in  place                                                                   
     about seven  years right  now.  The  women go in  there,                                                                   
     like it, they feel comfortable,  and it does help them a                                                                   
     great deal  to lose their weight and,  more importantly,                                                                   
     keeping the  weight off.  That's  where I am  right now,                                                                   
     and  I think it  certainly does  no harm  to anyone  and                                                                   
     does a  lot of  good for the  female population  here in                                                                   
     the state.                                                                                                                 
Number 1119                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN ROKEBERG  asked Mr.  Sankey how  many members  there are,                                                              
how many employees he has, and how much space he rents.                                                                         
MR. SANKEY responded that there are  approximately 1,500 women who                                                              
are members.   He has 45 full-time  and part-time employees.   The                                                              
space he rents is about 30,000 square feet.                                                                                     
Number 1235                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE HALCRO  made a motion to move CSSB  176(RLS) out of                                                              
committee with  individual recommendations  and the  attached zero                                                              
fiscal note.   There being no  objection, CSSB 176(RLS)  moved out                                                              
of the House Labor and Commerce Standing Committee.                                                                             

Document Name Date/Time Subjects