Hitting up the gym could be a great solution for women who are looking to maintain a healthier lifestyle. However, not a lot of them like the idea of gym workouts while being surrounded by men. For them, women-only gyms are an ideal option. These gyms hold various benefits which could eventually give women better results. But, in today’s society, it can be quite difficult to cater to a specific demographic without being considered guilty of discrimination. This is the case with women-only gyms as they are often considered discriminatory. But are they really discriminating?

What Does the Law Say?
In simple terms, treating someone differently on the basis of attribute is forbidden by law. These attributes may include sex, political beliefs, family responsibilities, beliefs, race, sexuality, age, etc. Discrimination has two main types i.e. direct and indirect. When you are treated “less favorably” due to an attribute, it is considered direct discrimination. Indirect discrimination is subtle in comparison e.g. requiring you to wear clothes that includes an accessory that infringes on your religious beliefs.

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Women-Only Gyms and Discrimination – How Does it Work?
Women-only gyms are an example of direct discrimination. However, they are not really discriminatory because the law is on their side. This is because some cases can be exempted from the rule according to Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. Hence, women-only gyms don’t run afoul of discrimination laws.

In some cases, these gyms do conflict with the laws, but not always. The question involves state anti-discrimination laws and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and requires distinguishing between private and public organizations, their business and social functions, and health. However, most women-only gyms are not private, at least not in the eyes of the law. According to the law, they are public accommodations that may not discriminate based on gender, religion, race, or other reasons. While the decision of a gym not to sell gym workouts memberships to men seems to be an obvious violation to the rule, women-only gyms are often allowed because their goal is to protect the privacy of women.

Right to Privacy
The right to privacy is implied by certain other rights that are clearly outlined in the Constitution. How this law applies to women-only gyms and health clubs in general is only a tiny part of the puzzle.

  • Typically, to justify gender discrimination in gym workouts membership, gyms have to prove that:
  • No reasonable alternative exists to protect the privacy rights of customers.
  • The privacy interests of the customers are entitled to protection under law, and
  • Not excluding members of one sex would harm the overall operations of the business.

The argument is clearly very fact-specific and there isn’t much guidance provided to women-only gym owners. If you are a women-only gym owner and you are concerned about your gym being labeled as discriminatory or have received a complaint because of it, then it is recommended that you contact a lawyer that specializes in this area to offer advice required to mitigate liability and risk or to defend a claim.