I`ve been kind of waiting to see something like this come across wires, and of course, it WOULD be in Kalifornia. What`s next, the Girl Scouts ? Petaluma women's gym faces bias suit State action backs SR man, could have statewide effect Thursday, October 28, 2004 By STEVE HART THE PRESS DEMOCRAT In a case that could affect women's health clubs across California, the state filed a lawsuit accusing a Petaluma women's fitness center of sex discrimination. The lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court alleges Elan Fitness Center fails to provide "full and equal accommodations" for men, in violation of the state's civil rights law. The suit stems from a discrimination complaint filed last year by a Santa Rosa man who said he was discouraged from joining the fitness club. The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing said Phillip Kottle was the victim of discrimination because of his gender . The department is seeking a court order requiring Elan Fitness to provide equal services and facilities for men. The case could test a 1995 state Supreme Court decision that limits the ability of private organizations to discriminate on the basis of sex or race. The ruling said private clubs that operate as businesses are subject to state laws that prohibit discrimination. Albert Cordova, attorney for Elan Fitness, said the Sonoma County case could affect large chains of women's health clubs, a growing niche in the multimillion-dollar fitness industry. Marin County-based Elan Fitness operates health clubs in San Anselmo and Petaluma. "Here, they are picking on a very small club," Cordova said. "But this has potential ramifications for the larger folks." Elan Fitness owner Joyce Brown couldn't be reached for comment. All-female fitness clubs are popular with women who don't want to be ogled by men while they're exercising, supporters said. They say there are plenty of co-ed clubs for men. Cordova said Elan Fitness had no written policy about admitting men because it was never an issue. "There had been virtually no inquiries by men," he said. He said other women's health clubs have varying policies about admitting men. In his complaint to the state civil rights agency, Kottle said he went to the Petaluma fitness club in July 2003 to ask about a $99 membership offer. He said the manager told him that men can use the club only one day a week. Another club representative said women can use the facilities at any time, Kottle complained. He said he also was told that monthly fees are the same for men and women. When contacted at his Santa Rosa home this week, Kottle declined to comment, saying he hasn't seen the state's lawsuit. Cordova wouldn't respond to the specifics of Kottle's complaint but said Elan Fitness wants to settle the dispute by giving men full access to the club's classes and facilities, with the exception of lockers and showers. He said Elan Fitness doesn't have separate lockers and showers for men. "We don't believe the law would require it," Cordova said. Nelson Chan, an attorney for the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, didn't return several calls seeking comment. In the lawsuit, he alleged Elan Fitness "maintained a business practice that excluded all men from enjoying the full and equal access to accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges and services" at the club. In addition to a court order opening the club to men on an equal basis, the lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages and an administrative fine. It also seeks an order requiring the Petaluma club to adopt a policy against sexual harassment and implement an anti-discrimination training program for employees.