Earlier this month, the Planet Fitness in Midland, Michigan canceled Yvette Cormier’s membership. Cormier had claimed to see a “man” — a transgender woman — in the locker room and had spent several days complaining to other customers about the gym’s inclusive policy allowing her to be there. Planet Fitness deemed her judgmental behavior “inappropriate and disruptive to other members,” but now Cormier is suing for over $25,000 in damages.
The complaint, filed in state court, accuses the LGBT-inclusive policy of being an “invasion of privacy [that] enables sexual harassment and possible criminal activity, and endangers women and children.” It includes a litany of alleged damages Cormier suffered, including the following:
- A violation to her right to privacy — “a man used the locker room while Mrs. Cormier was using the locker room” — that caused her “embarrassment, humiliation, and severe emotional distress.”
- A loss of gym facilities, fear about using the gym facilities, embarrassment and humiliation, severe emotional distress, damage to reputation, and “all other damages that reasonably flow from Defendants’ outrageous behavior.”
- “Conduct and communication of a sexual nature.”
- Wrongful termination of membership agreement and breach of contract.
- The following “exemplary damages”: “aggravation, annoyance, discomfort, disgrace, feelings of oppression, humiliation, inconvenience, indignation, insult, mental anxiety, mental suffering, mortification, outrage, scorn, shame, sorrow, vexation, and worry.”
Cormier is represented by the Kallman Legal Group. A press release from the group claims that Cormier “has filed this lawsuit to protect Michigan women and children and to hold Planet Fitness accountable for its irresponsible policy and actions. This case further illustrates the potential harm caused by adding the proposed new categories of sexual orientation/gender identity to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.”
Cormier’s representation by Kallman Legal Group is likely not a coincidence. David and Stephen Kallman, a father and son team, already have a reputation for opposing LGBT equality in Michigan. In October of 2013, they submitted a legal memo challenging proposed LGBT nondiscrimination protections in Delta Township, claiming that the ordinance would violate others’ religious freedom. The memo compared homosexuality to extramarital sex, polygamy, pedophilia, serial killer rapists, necrophilia, bestiality, and incest and suggested that because gender identity is “internal to the person,” someone accused of discrimination would be required to be a “mind-reader” not to discriminate. Their suit against Planet Fitness for respecting how individuals self-identify their gender seems to disprove this last concern.
In addition to his legal practice, David Kallman serves on the board of the Colorado-based Salt and Light Global ministries, which believes the Bible is infallible and seeks to impose God’s law “in every social sphere in every community.” Both Kallmans also serve as legal counsel for the Great Lakes Justice Center, which has published issue briefs similarly rejecting LGBT protections as a violation of religious liberty and describing such laws as an attempt to promote “civil acceptance of homosexual conduct through the force of law.”
In 2000 and 2001, David Kallman represented the American Family Association of Michigan when it fought the creation of a gay-straight alliance at Jackson High School in Jackson, Michigan. At the time, he compared the proposed club to a “group that encourages smoking pot,” describing homosexuality as dangerous because of higher rates of HIV infection. State Rep. Gary Glenn (R), who continues to serve as president of the American Family Association of Michigan, has also spoken out against the Planet Fitness policy and some transgender activists worry he may introduce legislation criminalizing transgender bathroom usage.
Incidentally, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission endorsed model legislation this week that would create statewide nondiscrimination protections that would include sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity. Dozens of municipalities across Michigan already extend such protections, and contrary to Cormier’s claims in her suit, gender identity protections across the country have never endangered women and children.
At the end of 2014, the Michigan legislature indicated it would consider such protections, but after first dropping protections for transgender people, the Republican-controlled House only considered instead a “religious freedom” bill that would circumvent those protections. None of the bills passed, but this month, lawmakers did advance legislation that would allow adoption agencies in the state to refuse service to same-sex couples while still receiving state funding.
Planet Fitness declined to comment on the litigation.