'Fitness' gym gets KO'd at the Court of Appeals

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Marie E. Matyjaszek

While I don’t necessarily enjoy working out, I understand the importance of maintaining one’s physique and improving overall physical health. Such factors are undoubtedly why Yvette Cormier joined the Planet Fitness gym in Midland in 2015. A month after joining, Cormier was surprised to see a transgender woman using the locker room designated for women.

Upset by the incident, Cormier complained to management, who told her that members could use whichever locker room facility they identified with genderwise. While Cormier continued to use the gym after learning of the unwritten policy, she took it upon herself to “warn” other women about the situation. Planet Fitness subsequently terminated her membership a few days later.

Cormier sued, and the trial court sided with the gym, granting summary disposition in its favor. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling, but the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision relative to Cormier’s claim of a Michigan Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) violation, and remanded the issue back to the Court of Appeals.

On July 26, 2018, the Court of Appeals issued its decision after remand, reversing itself and holding that Cormier “sufficiently sets forth claims of violation of the MCPA under MCL 445.903(1)(s), (bb), and (cc).” See MI Court of Appeals, No. 331286.

The MCPA “prohibits the use of unfair, unconscionable, or deceptive methods, acts, or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce.” In this case, Cormier argued that Planet Fitness advertised separate gender locker rooms and other facilities, all the while having an unwritten rule that a person could use whichever facility he or she self-identified with. Moreover, she had no real way of knowing of this policy, and had she known, it would have impacted her decision to join Planet Fitness.

The Court of Appeals dismissed several of her allegations as failing to state a claim for violation; however, it concluded that Planet Fitness’ failure to disclose the unwritten “self-identification” policy was germane to Cormier’s agreement to become a gym member. As evidenced by her actions, policies on which individuals were allowed to use the various locker and restrooms were an important part of her decision to join the gym, and could affect other members as well.

The Court emphasized that even though Cormier still used the gym after learning of the policy, this did not void her claim. The Court of Appeals reversed its previous ruling, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Cormier may have won this round, but it remains to be seen who will prevail in the next batch of legal proceedings.

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Marie Matyjaszek is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own.