Harvard University has moved to make Muslim women more comfortable in the gym by instituting women-only access times six hours a week to accommodate religious customs that make it difficult for some students to work out in the presence of men.
Men have not been allowed to enter the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center during certain times since Jan. 28, after members of the Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard Women’s Center petitioned the university for a more comfortable environment for women….
Prof. John Banzhaf has put out a press release saying that it probably does:
… In 1998 a female weight lifter in Boston was awarded $5000 when she was denied admission to a male-only section of a gym which had a separate gym area for women. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination made the ruling despite arguments that separate weight-lifting areas were necessary to prevent “sexual harassment,” and a finding that it did in fact tend to reduce sexual harassment. [Hassan and DiCenso v. City of Boston, et al., 20 MDLR 83]
Just a year earlier Superior Court Judge Burnes ruled that a “women only” health club violates Massachusetts’ public accommodation statute by refusing to admit men, and could not justify its policy on privacy grounds. [Foster v. Back Bay Spas, d/b/a/ Healthworks Fitness Center, Suffolk Superior Court No. 96-7060 (1997).]
Although the legislature responded by exempting some health clubs which are established solely for use by one gender, that exemption does not appear to apply here because the gym is used by both genders together during most times of the day, and because Harvard receives public funds. In the statutory words:
“however, that with regard to the prohibition on sex discrimination, this section shall not apply to a place of exercise for the exclusive use of persons of the same sex which is a bona fide fitness facility established for the sole purpose of promoting and maintaining physical and mental health through physical exercise and instruction, if such facility does not receive funds from a government source.” [ALM GL ch. 272,