Jalal v. Lucille Roberts Health Clubs Inc.
OPINION AND ORDER re: 12 FIRST MOTION to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. filed by Lucille Roberts Health Clubs Inc. : Plaintiff Yosefa Jalal brings this action against defendant Lucille Roberts Health Clubs Inc., alleging discrimin ation in a place of public accommodation in violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a; New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296(2)(a); and New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107. Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated above, defendant's motion to dismiss is granted. This opinion and order resolves the motion numbered 12 on the docket. The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to close this case. (Signed by Judge Thomas P. Griesa on 5/22/2017) (jwh)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
LUCILLE ROBERTS HEALTH CLUBS INC., :
DOC #: _________________
DATE FILED: May 22, 2017
THOMAS P. GRIESA, United States District Judge:
Plaintiff Yosefa Jalal brings this action against defendant Lucille Roberts
Health Clubs Inc., alleging discrimination in a place of public accommodation
in violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a; New
York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law § 296(2)(a); and New York City
Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107. Defendant moves to dismiss
the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the
reasons stated below, defendant’s motion to dismiss is granted. 1
At a status conference on August 12, 2016, the court expressed an
intention to convert defendant’s motion to dismiss to a motion for summary
judgment. See ECF No. 23. Both parties were then given an opportunity to
submit affidavits in connection with the motion. Upon further review, the court
declines to convert defendant’s motion to dismiss to a motion for summary
judgment. Accordingly, in ruling on defendant’s motion to dismiss, the court
does not consider any materials not integral to the complaint. See Roth v.
Jennings, 489 F.3d 499, 509 (2d Cir. 2007) (“In considering a motion under
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim on
which relief can be granted, the district court is normally required to look only
to the allegations on the face of the complaint.”).
The following allegations, which are accepted as true for purposes of this
motion to dismiss, are taken from plaintiff’s complaint.
Plaintiff is a Jewish woman who, in public, wears a knee-length, fitted
skirt. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 14–15. Defendant is a corporation that operates a chain of
gyms under the name “Lucille Roberts.” Id. ¶ 18. Membership at defendant’s
gyms is only available to women. Id. ¶ 34. Defendant requires its members to
abide by various rules and regulations, including the following dress code:
Dress appropriately. Flannel may be making a comeback this fall
but it is still inappropriate gym attire. That also goes for denim and
street clothes. This may be a ladies gym but you should still look
your best. Studies show you workout longer, faster and harder
when you have on a nice outfit. Studies also show you’re 75% more
likely to run into your ex on a day when you wear embarrassing
sweatpants and a stained t-shirt.
Wear the right shoes. You must wear sneakers (the regular ones,
not these new high-heeled kind) unless your class calls for dance
shoes, socks or bare feet. That means no flip flops, sandals, boots,
stilettos, flats or slippers. You laugh, but we’ve seen them all. Your
chance of being fashionable is 100%. So is your chance of injury.
Id. Ex. A. The dress code does not specifically prohibit skirts. Id. ¶ 31.
Plaintiff became a Lucille Roberts member in November 2011. Id. ¶ 33.
Each time plaintiff went to a Lucille Roberts gym, she wore “a knee-length,
fitted but comfortable skirt” while exercising. Id. ¶ 35. The skirt neither
interfered with gym equipment nor posed a danger in classes offered by
defendant. Id. ¶¶ 36, 38. Plaintiff went to Lucille Roberts gyms in Bay Shore,
New York and Brooklyn, New York without incident for approximately two
years. Id. ¶¶ 39–43.
On October 3, 2013, plaintiff went to the Lucille Roberts location on
Kings Highway in Brooklyn, New York. Id. ¶ 44. As was her usual practice,
plaintiff wore a skirt to the gym. Id. Plaintiff was exercising on an elliptical
when a manager approached and began shouting at her. Id. The manager told
plaintiff that she could not exercise in a skirt. Id. Plaintiff went to the front
desk, where she was again told she could not wear a skirt. Id. Plaintiff then left
the premises. Id.
Despite this encounter, plaintiff continued to exercise in a skirt at
various Lucille Roberts locations, including the one on Kings Highway, over the
next year. Id. ¶ 45–47. During that year, plaintiff used gym equipment—such
as the elliptical—and participated in classes. Id. ¶ 48. Her outfit did not
interfere with the equipment or classes, and Lucille Roberts staff members did
not comment on it. Id. ¶ 49.
On October 6, 2014, plaintiff wore a skirt to the Lucille Roberts location
on Kings Highway. Id. ¶ 50. Plaintiff was using an elliptical when a staff
member approached and told her she could not wear a skirt. Id. Plaintiff told
the staff member that she needed to wear the skirt for religious reasons. Id.
The staff member told plaintiff to speak with a manager. Id. ¶ 51.
Plaintiff met with the manager and repeated her explanation that she
must wear a skirt for religious reasons. Id. ¶ 52. The manager told plaintiff that
she could not exercise in a skirt, but could instead wear a long t-shirt. Id.
Wearing a long t-shirt, though, would not comply with plaintiff’s religious
beliefs. Id. ¶ 53. Because the manager told plaintiff she could not exercise at
Lucille Roberts while wearing a skirt, plaintiff left. Id. ¶ 55.
After this incident, plaintiff began frequenting the Lucille Roberts gym on
Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn instead of the one on Kings Highway. Id. ¶ 56.
From October 2014 to June 2015, plaintiff regularly wore a skirt to the
Flathbush Avenue location. Id. ¶¶ 57–58. During this period, she used gym
equipment and took classes. Id. ¶ 59. The staff did not comment on plaintiff’s
attire. Id. ¶ 60.
On June 26, 2015, however, a manager at the Flatbush Avenue location
told plaintiff she could not wear a skirt in the gym. Id. ¶ 61. Plaintiff explained
to the manager that she had to wear a skirt for religious reasons, and plaintiff
noted that the dress code did not prohibit skirts. Id. The manager then told
plaintiff she was trespassing, so plaintiff left the gym. Id. ¶¶ 62–63. A few days
later, plaintiff returned to the Flatbush Avenue location and exercised in a skirt
without incident. Id. ¶ 65.
Plaintiff went to the Flatbush Avenue location again on July 1, 2015. Id.
¶ 66. An employee at the front desk told plaintiff she could not wear a skirt,
but plaintiff proceeded—in her skirt—to a kickboxing class at the gym, anyway.
Id. While the class was in session, the employee who was at the desk entered
the room and spoke to the instructor. Id. The instructor stopped the music and
told everyone the class was suspended until plaintiff took off her skirt. Id.
Plaintiff told the instructor she had to wear the skirt for religious reasons. Id.
Other customers, frustrated by the interruption, told plaintiff to “just take it
off.” Id. Some patrons screamed at plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff left the class and began
to exercise alone on an elliptical. Id. ¶ 68.
The employee from the front desk saw plaintiff using the elliptical and
demanded to know her name. Id. ¶ 69. The employee then told plaintiff her
membership had been revoked, she was trespassing, and the police were on
their way. Id. ¶¶ 69–70. Plaintiff subsequently left the gym. Id. ¶ 73. In a letter
dated July 1, 2015, defendant informed plaintiff that her membership had been
terminated. Id. ¶ 74.
Other Jewish women wearing knee-length skirts have had similar
experiences at Lucille Roberts gyms. Id. ¶¶ 4, 76. According to plaintiff, the
attire worn by modest Jewish women “offend[s] Lucille Roberts’ self-image of a
health club filled with ‘strong, sexy and confident women.’” Id. ¶ 4.
Plaintiff filed an administrative complaint with the New York City
Commission on Human Rights on January 7, 2015. Id. ¶ 79. This complaint
pertained to the October 6, 2014 incident, in which a manager told plaintiff she
could not wear a skirt but could wear a long t-shirt. Id. The Commission
dismissed the complaint on August 18, 2015. Id. ¶ 80. Plaintiff did not file an
administrative complaint about the July 2015 incidents. Id.
Plaintiff filed suit in this court on October 2, 2015. Defendant moved to
dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on
November 2, 2015. The court held a status conference on August 12, 2016.
After the conference, the parties reported that they were engaged in productive
settlement discussions, and the court held the motion to dismiss in abeyance
while the parties negotiated. Ultimately, the parties were unable to reach a
Standard of Review
“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action,
supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.
Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title II of the Civil Rights of Act of 1964 entitles all persons “to the full
and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages,
and accommodations of any place of public accommodation . . . without
discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national
origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(a). “[T]he overriding purpose of Title II [was] to
remove the daily affront and humiliation involved in discriminatory denials of
access to facilities ostensibly open to the general public.” Daniel v. Paul, 395
U.S. 298, 307–08 (1969) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
There is little case law in this Circuit analyzing claims of religious
discrimination in places of public accommodation under Title II. Courts have
held, though, that a plaintiff bringing a Title II claim “must allege facts which
show that [she] was deprived of equal use and enjoyment of a covered facility’s
services and facts which demonstrate discriminatory intent.” Coward v. Town
& Vill. of Harrison, 665 F. Supp. 2d 281, 307 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (citing Thomas v.
Tops Friendly Mkts., Inc., No. 96-cv-1579, 1997 WL 627553, at *5 (N.D.N.Y.
Oct. 8, 1997)); see also Joseph v. Metro. Museum of Art, No. 15-cv-9358, 2016
WL 3351103, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. June 15, 2016), aff’d, 2017 WL 1103468 (2d Cir.
Mar. 22, 2017) (summary order); Baron v. Miller, No. 3:13-cv-153, 2014 WL
3956562, at *8 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 13, 2014); Macer v. Bertucci’s Corp., No. 13-cv2994, 2013 WL 6235607, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 3, 2013). A plaintiff can use
either direct or circumstantial evidence to show discriminatory intent. Thomas,
1997 WL 627553, at *5; see also Dunaway v. Cowboys Nightlife, Inc., 436 F.
App’x 386, 398 (5th Cir. 2011).
Defendant concedes that its gyms are places of public accommodation
within the meaning of the statute. Plaintiff, however, has not adequately
alleged facts demonstrating discriminatory intent. Although the standard for
pleading discriminatory intent under Title II is not well defined, courts in this
Circuit have analyzed Title II claims using the framework established for claims
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. 2 See Stone v. N.Y. Pub. Library, No. 05-cvSection 1981 bars “discrimination with respect to the enjoyment of
benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of a contractual relationship, such
as employment.” Patterson v. Cty. of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 224 (2d Cir. 2004).
10896, 2008 WL 1826485, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 22, 2008), aff’d, 348 F. App’x
665 (2d Cir. 2009); see also Bentley v. Mobil Gas Station, 599 F. App’x 395, 396
n.1 (2d Cir. 2015). Section 1981 claims are, in turn, analyzed under the
burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411
U.S. 792 (1973). See Ruiz v. Cty. of Rockland, 609 F.3d 486, 491 (2d Cir. 2010).
Under McDonnell Douglas, a claim survives a motion to dismiss if the complaint
gives “plausible support to a minimal inference of discriminatory motivation.”
Vega v. Hempstead Union Free Sch. Dist., 801 F.3d 72, 84 (2d Cir. 2015) (citing
Littlejohn v. City of New York, 795 F.3d 297, 311 (2d Cir. 2015)).
Here, plaintiff fails to allege facts plausibly supporting a minimal
inference of discriminatory motivation. Although plaintiff contends that she
was treated differently than other Lucille Roberts members on the basis of her
religion, the factual allegations only suggest that she was treated differently
because she insisted on wearing an article of clothing that, according to
defendant, was inappropriate gym attire. That decision is defendant’s, and
defendant’s alone. To the extent the parties dispute whether defendant’s
“Member Rules and Regulations”—namely, the lighthearted dress code—
actually bans skirts, that is a contractual issue, and it does not give rise to a
federal civil rights lawsuit.
Nowhere does the complaint allege that defendant selectively enforced its
dress code against Jewish women. The complaint does not allege, for example,
that defendant permitted non-Jewish women to exercise in skirts, nor does it
allege that defendant allowed non-Jewish women to violate any other rule or
regulation. Moreover, plaintiff has not pled any specific facts to support her
claim that her religious practices offended defendant’s “self-image of a health
club filled with ‘strong, sexy and confident women.’” And although plaintiff
contends that defendant has “harassed” other modest Jewish women, plaintiff
has not provided any information to support this conclusory allegation. Plaintiff
thus fails to adequately allege discriminatory intent.
Plaintiff also argues that, even if defendant lacked discriminatory intent,
she has stated a claim under Title II because defendant’s policy prohibiting
skirts in its gyms has a disparate impact on modest Jewish women. Generally
speaking, disparate impact claims do not require proof of discriminatory intent
because disparate impact theory targets “practices that are fair in form, but
discriminatory in operation.” Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 431
(1971). There is no indication, though, that claims grounded solely in disparate
impact—and lacking any allegation of discriminatory intent—are cognizable
under Title II.
Indeed, courts in this Circuit have required plaintiffs bringing Title II
claims to “allege intentional discrimination,” James v. Am. Airlines, Inc., No. 16cv-674, 2017 WL 1208429, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2017) (emphasis added),
and plead “facts which demonstrate discriminatory intent,” Coward, 665 F.
Supp. 2d at 307 (emphasis added). The statute’s language fully supports these
formulations of a Title II claim. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(a) (barring
“discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national
origin” but not precluding unintended adverse impacts); see also Boyle v.
Jerome Country Club, 883 F. Supp. 1422, 1432 (D. Idaho 1995) (“To go beyond
the intended language of Title II, and require public facilities to affirmatively
accommodate patrons’ religious beliefs . . . is not appropriate nor allowed
under the applicable legislation.”). Moreover, district courts in other circuits
have held that disparate impact claims are not cognizable under Title II. See,
e.g., Hardie v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 97 F. Supp. 3d 1163, 1165–69
(S.D. Cal. 2015), appeal filed, No. 15-55576 (9th Cir.); Akiyama v. U.S. Judo
Inc., 181 F. Supp. 2d 1179, 1184–87 (W.D. Wash 2002); LaRoche v. Denny’s,
Inc., 62 F. Supp. 2d 1366, 1370 n.2 (S.D. Fla. 1999). This court sees no reason
to diverge from the logic set forth in those cases.
In making her argument that she has sufficiently pled a disparate impact
claim under Title II, plaintiff references the Second Circuit’s decision in Olzman
v. Lake Hills Swim Club, Inc., 495 F.2d 1333 (2d Cir. 1974). Olzman dealt with
a private, members-only swim club that, in manipulating its facially-neutral
rules for allowing guests, effectively prevented black children from visiting the
club. Id. at 1337–38. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of
the defendant-swim club, but the Second Circuit reversed, holding that
“however racially neutral the rule . . . may appear on its face, one inquiry the
court below must make is whether it was adopted to keep certain black
children out.” Id. at 1341–42. The Second Circuit instructed the district court
to consider “whether the supposedly neutral rule was nothing more in reality
than a smokescreen to cover the actual intent and effect or whether it was
factually grounded in non-racial motivations.” Id. at 1342.
Far from paving the way for pure disparate impact claims under Title II—
i.e., those in which the only allegation is that a facially-neutral policy adversely
affects one group of people—the Second Circuit’s holding in Olzman actually
makes clear that an intent to discriminate is the animating element of a Title II
claim. See Jefferson v. City of Fremont, 73 F. Supp. 3d 1133, 1145 (N.D. Cal.
2014) (stating that Olzman “adopted a disparate impact theory as to Title II,”
but recognizing that the case “also involved evidence of discriminatory intent
motivating otherwise race-neutral rules”); Akiyama, 181 F. Supp. 2d at 1185
(reasoning that the Second Circuit’s decision in Olzman was “fully consistent”
with Congress’ goal in enacting Title II to correct intentional wrongs, despite
the fact that the Court “ostensibly relied on a disparate impact analysis”). To
hold otherwise would be unworkable because, given the fact that religious
beliefs are subjective and personal, practically any rule created by a public
accommodation could adversely affect an individual or one group of people. As
one district court put it:
Absent more, the fact that a proprietor has decided to offer his or
her services to the public in a way which could impact a religious
practice or belief, whether it be by conducting business only on
Sundays, by failing to keep a Kosher kitchen, by failing to include
fish on the menu during Lent, or by prohibiting smoking, raises no
inference of discrimination or other conduct which Congress
sought to censure through the enactment of Title II.
Akiyama, 181 F. Supp. 2d at 1185. Accordingly, the court holds that there is
no claim under Title II for a facially-neutral policy when there is no indication
of discriminatory motive.
To be sure, Title II would be implicated if a rule, though neutral on its
face, was adopted as pretext for intentional discrimination. See id. at 1187 n.6
(“By way of example, if a restauranteur’s facially neutral prohibition against
hats were shown to be a surrogate for a rule excluding Sikhs, Hasidic Jews,
and/or Muslims, a disparate treatment claim under Title II would be
appropriate.”). Here, though, the complaint does not allege facts suggesting
that defendant prohibited skirts as pretext for barring Jewish women. While
plaintiff contends that defendant excluded her because her modest attire did
not conform with the image defendant sought to project in its gyms, a Title II
claim cannot be grounded solely in discrimination based on appearance or
attire, as these are not classes protected by the statute. Absent factual
allegations supporting an inference of discriminatory intent based on religion,
plaintiff does not state a claim. Defendant’s motion to dismiss is thus granted.
State and Local Law Claims
A district court has discretion to decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over claims brought under state and local law where the court has
dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1367(c)(3). Further, “where, as here, the federal claims are eliminated in the
early stages of litigation, courts should generally decline to exercise pendent
jurisdiction over remaining state law claims.” Klein & Co. Futures, Inc. v. Bd. of
Trade, 464 F.3d 255, 262 (2d Cir. 2006). The court therefore declines to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff’s state and local law claims.
These claims are dismissed without prejudice.
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