No Women’s Only Work-Out Area in CT

March, 2022



In May, 2021, I reported about a case appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Course involving a women’s only work-out area at a gym.

The case arrived at the Supreme Court through an administrative appeal by the CT Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities (CHRO) of the final decision of its own hearing officer, CHRO v. Edge Fitness, et al., HHB-CV-196056021, judicial district of New Britain, July 23, 2020, Cordani, J.

Two men filed complaints with the CHRO against Edge Fitness LLC and Club Fitness alleging that the provision of a women only work out area in their fitness facilities violated Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-64, prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations.

In these facilities, the women only area is separated from the rest of the facility, such that people outside the designated area cannot easily look inside, providing privacy for the women inside.

The women only areas are used by certain Jewish and Muslim women who are forbidden by their religious beliefs from exercising with men.

While the administrative hearing officer ruled in favor of the women, the Connecticut Supreme Court held otherwise. Comm’n on Hum. Rights & Opportunities v. Edge Fitness, LLC, 2022 Conn. LEXIS 18 (January 25, 2022).

The Court dismissed the CHRO’s appeal, holding that the trial court incorrectly concluded that Section 46a-64 contains an implicit gender privacy exception that exempted the gym’s provision of women’s only workout areas from the act’s general prohibition against sex discrimination.

The Court held that while the legislature enacted the bathroom and locker room exceptions in the statute, such exceptions do not include women’s only workout areas, since the statute was not ambiguous.


In holding that there was no substantial evidence in the record to support a causal connection between a sergeant’s racist remarks and the city’s decision to terminate a police officer, the Connecticut Appellate Court used an incorrect legal standard more appropriate for summary judgment decisions.  City of Hartford Police Department v. Comm’n on Human Rights and Opportunities, 208 Conn.App. 755 (2021).

Hartford Police Officer Khoa Phan filed a discrimination complaint with the CHRO alleging that one of his sergeants made racist statements about his national origin, including laughing at his accent, suggesting that all east Asians are “the same,” and that hard core criminals must be laughing at him when he tells them what to do. 

The CHRO human rights referee ruled in Phan’s favor that he was the subject of discrimination.  In its appeal to Superior Court, the trial judge also ruled in his favor.

However, the CT Appellate Court reversed.  It used a legal standard first announced by the U.S. Supreme Court, McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).  Under that framework, the employment discrimination plaintiff must state a “prima facie” case, minimally showing that the challenged actions occurred under circumstances that give rise to an inference of discrimination.  The employer must then provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory justification for its action.  Finally, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the employer’s justification is a “pretext” for discrimination.

The Appellate Court concluded that Phan lacked an “evidentiary basis” for his prima facie case.

But the “prima facie case” analysis does not apply once a factfinder, here the CHRO appeals referee, reaches factual conclusions.  The U.S. Supreme Court used the McDonnell Douglas framework for deciding motions for summary judgment (motions to end a case claiming that the discrimination claims lack evidence) and the court held that this framework does not apply once the case reaches trial.

As the Connecticut Law Tribune commented on March 6, 2022, “Once the case is tried, in other words, the plaintiff’s ‘prima facie case’ is irrelevant.  As a result, the federal courts overwhelmingly disfavor the use of the McDonnell Douglas framework in both jury instructions and post-trial motions.”

Therefore, it’s up to the Connecticut Supreme Court to correct this error.

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