Legislature(1999 - 2000)

01/13/2000 01:40 PM Senate 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  MACKIE  called the  Senate  Labor and  Commerce  Committee                                                            
meeting  to order at  1:40 p.m. and  announced SB  176 to be  up for                                                            
SENATOR PEARCE  explained that SB 176 was introduced  at the request                                                            
of the  Women's Club, a  health and fitness  exercise facility  with                                                            
two locations  in Anchorage.   Last  year, the  Alaska Human  Rights                                                            
Commission  found an action  against the  Club saying it  unlawfully                                                            
discriminated  against men because  it does not allow male  members.                                                            
The Commission based its  decision on AS 18.82.30 which says that in                                                            
places of accommodation  it is unlawful to refuse, withhold from, or                                                            
deny to  a person  any of  its services  if the  facility bases  its                                                            
membership on sex.                                                                                                              
SENATOR  PEARCE  stated  that  health  clubs  are  not specifically                                                             
referenced  in AS 18.80.314.   The bill before  the committee  would                                                            
establish  in law  that health  clubs are  not designed  for  public                                                            
accommodation  and have  no public  policy interest.   Gender  based                                                            
health clubs offer a secluded  environment that allow people to feel                                                            
more at ease in, what is  often, an intimidating setting.  She hoped                                                            
to recognize the  unique setting of either a male-only  or a female-                                                            
only health  club based on membership  and employment.  The  bill in                                                            
no way excludes  any individual from the opportunity  to exercise in                                                            
a co-ed health club, if the individual so chooses.                                                                              
CHAIRMAN  MACKIE asked if  a definition of  "health club" exists  in                                                            
the statute that she referenced.                                                                                                
SENATOR PEARCE  answered she would  have to check "physical  fitness                                                            
facility or gymnasium" in the statute.                                                                                          
CHAIRMAN MACKIE  commented that the  facility could not be  designed                                                            
for public accommodation, such as a public school gymnasium.                                                                    
SENATOR PEARCE replied  that is correct, taken in the context of the                                                            
full statute.                                                                                                                   
Number 334                                                                                                                      
MR. JOHN SANKEY,  the owner of the  Women's Health Club,  a division                                                            
of the Wellness  Institute, explained that the Club  was built about                                                            
eight years ago to accommodate  women who were attending his weight-                                                            
loss clinic.    He has specialized  in the field of weight  loss for                                                            
the last 10  years and about 95 percent  of his clients are  female.                                                            
MR. SANKEY noted that two  components for successful weight loss and                                                            
maintenance are diet and  exercise.  While his clients would do well                                                            
on the diet, none of the  women would go to any of the fitness clubs                                                            
in Anchorage because  they are co-ed and they felt  very intimidated                                                            
by  the presence  of  men.   He built  the  fitness club  for  these                                                            
particular  women.    He  bought  equipment   that  is specifically                                                             
designed for the female  anatomy.  Most fitness clubs have equipment                                                            
built for  men and do not  accommodate a woman  properly.   Were his                                                            
Club co-ed, it would lose its main reason for being.                                                                            
CHAIRMAN  MACKIE asked what  other states  have statutes for  gender                                                            
specific clubs.  He noted that Massachusetts changed its law.                                                                   
MR.SANKEY  answered   this  issue  went  to  the  highest  court  in                                                            
Pennsylvania  and the ruling was 3-2  in favor of women-only  clubs.                                                            
It really  has not been an  issue in other  states.  Every  state in                                                            
the union has women-only fitness clubs.                                                                                         
CHAIRMAN  MACKIE  said  he sees  that  Colorado,  Hawaii,  Illinois,                                                            
Massachusetts,  New Jersey and Tennessee,  as well as Pennsylvania,                                                             
allow them.                                                                                                                     
MR. SANKEY said  all other states have simply let  it be without any                                                            
litigation or complaints.                                                                                                       
Number 700                                                                                                                      
MS.  SARAH MASALTON  stated  support  for  SB 176.   She  said  that                                                            
society  allows  for separate-sex  restrooms,  changing  rooms,  and                                                            
showers in public facilities.  Women should be free to work on their                                                            
bodies'  needs  without  being  watched  by the  intruding  eyes  of                                                            
another person.   The Nautilus Club  is the only club where  a woman                                                            
can work  on her personal  needs without  compromising her  modesty,                                                            
dignity, and self-respect by compromising her privacy.                                                                          
CHAIRMAN MACKIE  asked if, in her  opinion, a lot of women  would go                                                            
without rather than use co-ed clubs.                                                                                            
MS. MASALTON replied yes.                                                                                                       
MS.  JEANNE  MCCALLISTER,  Anchorage,  said  she  is  a weight-loss                                                             
counselor at the  Medifast weight-loss clinic and  has been involved                                                            
in the fitness  industry for over 10 years.  She said  she has had a                                                            
lot of contact  with the  women in the clubs  and for them it  is an                                                            
issue of  privacy.  They  would lose a lot  of members and a  lot of                                                            
women would  not take the  opportunity to work  out if there  are no                                                            
women's clubs.                                                                                                                  
MS. CHRIS PARSONS,  customer service representative,  Nautilus Club,                                                            
said she deals  with the women in  the gym all day long.   She knows                                                            
how  they work  out  and their  concerns.  Ninety percent  of  their                                                            
customers will  not work out somewhere else if they  don't have this                                                            
Number 987                                                                                                                      
MS.  PAULA   HALEY,  Alaska  Human   Rights  Commission,   said  the                                                            
Commission  opposes  SB  176.    This  action  was  brought  to  the                                                            
Commission  by  an  individual   who  claimed  he  had  been  denied                                                            
membership  due to  his gender.    The Commission  investigated  the                                                            
claim and  determined  that under  statute a female-only  club  is a                                                            
place of public  accommodation. The  statutory definition  of public                                                            
accommodation also includes  the phrase, "all other public amusement                                                            
and business  establishments."  Accordingly,  the Commission  deemed                                                            
this kind of operation  prohibited under statute.   The agency staff                                                            
cannot decide  constitutional issues so the issue  of privacy is not                                                            
one they evaluated.  The  Commission issued a discrimination finding                                                            
and  set a  hearing date  in  April.   The Commissioners  agreed  to                                                            
revisit the issue if legislation  was introduced but after reviewing                                                            
SB 176, the Commission  continues to oppose the bill because it will                                                            
create  a "slippery  slope"  leading  to  the segregation  of  other                                                            
facilities.   In addition,  for many years  women opposed  male-only                                                            
clubs and facilities.    The Commission was also concerned  that the                                                            
phrase "physical  fitness facility and gymnasium"  is vague and that                                                            
the recreation gymnasium  at the Spenard Center would be included in                                                            
this bill even if that was not the intent of the sponsor.                                                                       
CHAIRMAN MACKIE  asked if the Commission was sympathetic  to some of                                                            
the testimony the Committee  has heard and whether it has suggestion                                                            
on how to address the privacy concern.                                                                                          
Number 1354                                                                                                                     
MS. HALEY replied  that some members  were concerned that  women had                                                            
said for so  long they should not  be excluded from clubs  that have                                                            
traditionally  been male-only.   Commission  members questioned  how                                                            
women can say  they want equality  for all, except when they  need a                                                            
niche in  this area.   The Commission  was not  unsympathetic.   The                                                            
members respect that reasonable minds can differ on this issue.                                                                 
CHAIRMAN MACKIE asked what the Commission suggested.                                                                            
MS. HALEY  said the  Commission  thought a definition  of  "physical                                                            
fitness  facility and  gymnasium"  would help,  but  it would  still                                                            
oppose the  legislation in general.   She noted in the 20  years she                                                            
has been  involved in civil  rights enforcement  this situation  has                                                            
brought the strongest opinions on both sides of the fence.                                                                      
CHAIRMAN MACKIE commented  that the only reason a man would be upset                                                            
is because  men tend to work out a  lot harder when there  are women                                                            
SENATOR  PEARCE  stated that  the  Human  Rights statute  lists  the                                                            
definition  of  public   accommodation  as  "public   amusement  and                                                            
business establishments."   However, in notes to decisions,  "public                                                            
accommodations" does not apply to membership organizations.                                                                     
SENATOR  PEARCE  asked  Ms.  Haley   why  the  Commission  choose  a                                                            
different view  in light of the statute  and the Supreme  Court case                                                            
involving the Jaycees.                                                                                                          
MS. HALEY responded that  the Commission is of the opinion that this                                                            
entity falls  within the  definition of public  accommodation.   The                                                            
Jaycee case was about a  service membership organization that had no                                                            
location,  such as the  Girl Scouts.  Many  business establishments                                                             
are considered  clubs; they are open  to the general public  and the                                                            
only criteria  is that one must join  to participate.  She  does not                                                            
feel  that the  Jaycees' case  says the  Commission  erred in  going                                                            
forward given the language of the statute.                                                                                      
SENATOR PEARCE stated that  she is willing to work on the definition                                                            
of "public health clubs."                                                                                                       
Number 1738                                                                                                                     
SENATOR HOFFMAN  asked Ms. Haley to  give some examples of  how this                                                            
case could lead to a "slippery slope."                                                                                          
MS. HALEY  responded that  if a private social  club where  business                                                            
deals are  made were to  exclude women,  men, or African-Americans,                                                             
for example, passage of SB 176 would create a "slippery slope."                                                                 
SENATOR PEARCE disagreed.                                                                                                       
CHAIRMAN MACKIE asked that the word "gymnasium" also be defined.                                                                
MR. DAN COFFEE,  Attorney, stated  that all of the concerns  brought                                                            
up have  been discussed  in every  state that  has considered  these                                                            
matters.  The  "slippery slope" issue  is discussed in his  handout.                                                            
It  is clear  that  women have  a right  to  privacy  and that  this                                                            
legislation  in other states has not  caused a proliferation  of men                                                            
only clubs.  He would also like clarity on the definitions.                                                                     
Number 2033                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN MACKIE  stated that he supports  the legislation  and would                                                            
like to move it from committee  as soon as a committee substitute is                                                            
completed and  the committee is comfortable  with the new  language.                                                            
There  being no  further  business  to come  before  the  committee,                                                            
CHAIRMAN MACKIE adjourned the meeting at 2:20 p.m.                                                                              

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