Workplace Relations Commission: Man loses discrimination case against a gym with room for ‘ladies use only’
A man who brought a case to the Workplace Relations Commission seeking redress for discrimination on the grounds of gender has had his complaint dismissed.
The man complained that he was not allowed to use a room designated for use by females only and that he was being discriminated against since there was not a similar room for use by males only.
Accepting the reasons given by the gym, including that the room was necessary for women of the Muslim faith to be able to exercise without their headscarves, Adjudication Officer Niamh O’Carroll Kelly was satisfied that the gym had provided objective reasons justifying its decision to have a female-only room.
The complainant, Mr Niall Hogan, was a member of the respondent, Westwood Health Club, from 1990 to 1993. In 2017 he received a letter offering him a discount if he joined up again.
After joining up with the club again, Mr Hogan noticed that there was a small section of the gym cordoned off for “ladies use only”. Upon asking Westwood staff members if he could use this room, he was told that he was not allowed. He said that he would like to use the room to train on his own, but was informed that the room was designated for use by females only.
On the basis of there not being a similar room dedicated for use by males only, Mr Hogan said that he was being discriminated against on the ground of gender.
Complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission
In the Workplace Relations Commission, Mr Hogan sought adjudication under section 21 of the Equal Status Act 2000. He alleged discrimination on the grounds of gender as a result of not being allowed to use the female-only gym at the health club where he is charged the same membership fee as females.
Westwood accepted that there is a female-only gym within the main gym on all of their sites – it stated that all of their gyms have female members of the Muslim faith who are not permitted to exercise in a gym without their headscarves where males are present and that the female-only gym allows female members to exercise without their headscarves.
In addition, Westwood stated that older ladies in the club were experiencing difficulty in the main gym when using the machines or lifting weights. It had been brought to the attention of the club that many items of gym equipment were “left by males after use with extremely heavy weights attached”, and that in some circumstances, this “could have caused an injury to some less strong or older female members”.
Westwood said that it made the decision to seclude a small area of the gym for female use only, considering both the religious reasons and the health and safety reasons.
The Equal Status Act 2000
Adjudication Officer O’Carroll Kelly set out Section 14 of the Equal Status Act 2000, which states:
Nothing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting:
- the taking of any action that is required by or under:
- any enactment or order of a court;
- any act done or measure adopted by the European Union, by the European Communities or institutions thereof or by bodies competent under the Treaties establishing the European Communities; or
- any convention or other instrument imposing an international obligation on the State
- preferential treatment or the taking of positive measures which are bona fide intended to—
- promote equality of opportunity for persons who are, in relation to other persons, disadvantaged or who have been or are likely to be unable to avail themselves of the same opportunities as those other persons; or
- cater for the special needs of persons, or a category of persons, who, because of their circumstances, may require facilities, arrangements, services or assistance not required by persons who do not have those special needs.
Adjudication Officer O’Carroll Kelly considered the reasons given by Westwood which required it to create the female-only section of the gym, and said that Sections 14(b)(i) and 14(b)(ii) permitted Westwood “to cater for the needs of such women who would otherwise be unable to exercise”.
While Adjudication Officer O’Carroll Kelly was satisfied that Mr Hogan has established a prima facie case of discrimination, she was satisfied that Westwood provided “objective reasons justifying its decision to have a female-only room within its gyms, based on the very specific needs of a category of persons who would not otherwise be able to participate”.
In those circumstances, Adjudication Officer O’Carroll Kelly said the complaint failed.
- by Róise Connolly for Irish Legal News
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2019