Complaint of bias against Holiday Spa moves to hearing

May 19, 1991|By Michael K. Burns

Aerobic dancing seemed a good way of working out to Bruce Gaber and Richard Arnold, who tried to join classes at the Holiday Spa health clubs where they belong.

Sorry, they were told, but the dance classes are reserved for women. Holiday officials explained that they feared female members might be self-conscious about dancing in front of men and quit.

The two men weren't persuaded. They filed sex-discrimination complaints with the state Human Relations Commission, in a case that has dragged on for more than six years, including appeals on procedure to the state Court of Special Appeals.

"I paid the same as everybody else at the club, and I wanted to take the class," said Mr. Gaber, a biochemist and member of the Bethesda club. "They were clearly discriminating on the basis of sex. It could just as easily have been against women."

"The reasons they gave were so ridiculous and out of touch with current life and thinking," said Mr. Arnold, a lawyer and member of the Greenbelt club. "I was really hot about it."

Earlier this month, the appeals court decision cleared the way for a discrimination hearing June 17 before an administrative law judge.

Holiday's lawyer promptly announced that all the Towson-based health chain's aerobics classes in Maryland had been integrated since November. The case should therefore be dismissed, argued attorney David E. Manoogian.

"The state initiated a case to make the aerobics classes coed, and we have," he said. "There is nothing left for them to do. They haven't asked for [monetary] damages, and they are not entitled to them under the law."

Lee D. Hoshall, an attorney for the Human Relations Commission, disagreed.

"They have not agreed to the remedies we asked for. We need an enforceable cease-and-desist order or an agreement permanently enjoining them from discrimination," Mr. Hoshall said.

The commission also wants the company to appoint a "fair practices officer" to enforce non-discrimination practices and to inform all male members that the aerobics classes are now coed, he said.

"They violated the law and fought us tooth and nail for years," he said. If the case is dismissed by the judge, "this new policy of Holiday's will be changed within minutes."

Mr. Manoogian and the health club chain were hit with sanctions by the Court of Special Appeals for "abuse of the judicial process" because of frivolous court appeals designed to force the state to abandon the case. The court ordered the chain to pay the commission $648 in lawyers' fees.

Mr. Manoogian said he would not appeal the sanctions.

He also said that Holiday made its aerobics classes coed in the eastern region clubs, including Maryland, in November in order to lengthen class times and provide multiple-level classes. The new policy was outlined in an April memo.

"The pending legal case had nothing to do with changes made by Holiday," Mr. Manoogian said.

The chain of more than 50 Holiday centers is owned by Bally Manufacturing Corp. of Chicago, which also operates hundreds of other fitness clubs.

Two county commissions on human relations in Maryland have also dealt with similar complaints by men against Holiday Spa clubs.

Baltimore County's commission dismissed earlier this year a male member's complaint that he was illegally barred from an aerobics class last summer at the Baltimore National Pike location.

Montgomery County -- after a Holiday appeal that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court -- found the company guilty of sex discrimination in 1989. But the country allowed the chain to keep roughly 40 percent of its classes reserved for women.

In February, the Holiday chain settled a suit in Baltimore federal court brought by blacks in five cities who charged they were discouraged from becoming members. Holiday agreed to pay $9.5 million to more than 1,300 individuals in the class action.

(In April 1989, Holiday resolved a Justice Department civil rights suit based on the same allegations, signing a consent decree saying it would not discriminate in the future.)

In another discrimination suit, Holiday is being sued by black former employees in the Baltimore and Washington areas who )) claim they were barred from better-paying jobs at clubs that mostly serve white members.

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