NEW YORK (JTA) — A women’s-only gym chain founded by a Soviet Jewish emigre who wanted to protect women from lewd attention is being sued by an Orthodox Jewish woman in Brooklyn who says its employees repeatedly harassed her over her modest attire.
Yosefa Jalal, 25, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Lucille Roberts fitness chain, claiming employees at two different locations told her she could not wear knee-length skirts while working out, the New York Post and Gothamist reported.
Jalal, an elementary school teacher pursuing a master’s degree at Brooklyn College, alleges that her membership was terminated in July after she refused to take off her skirt during a kickboxing class.
She had been a member of the club since 2011, going to multiple locations in Brooklyn and on Long Island. Among the other incidents of harassment alleged in the suit: In 2013, a manager shouted at her for wearing a skirt on the elliptical trainer machine, and a year later, an employee forced her to leave after she refused to change out of the skirt.
“Just because I’m an observant Jew doesn’t mean that I should be treated like a criminal and shouldn’t be allowed to work out,” the Post quoted Jalal as saying. “It’s just not fair.”
The lawsuit accuses the company of religious discrimination and seeks unspecified damages, along with a court order forcing Lucille Roberts to reinstate Jalal’s membership and barring it “from discriminating on the basis of religion, and in particular, discriminating against observant-Jewish women.”
Founded in Manhattan in 1969 by a Soviet Jewish emigre named Lucille Roberts, the company’s mission is, according to its website, to “provide strong, sexy and confident women with a place they can call their own.” Roberts’ 2003 obituary in the New York Times (she died at age 59 of lung cancer, though she was not a smoker), said she made the gyms all-female “because she wanted to protect women from being ogled in coed gyms.”
Although the gym chain discourages flannel, denim, and “street clothes,” it does not formally prohibit skirts, Gothamist reported.
According to the lawsuit and multiple comments on Jalal’s Facebook wall, she is not the only observant Jewish woman whose attire has drawn negative attention from Lucille Roberts employees.
“We don’t have different health clubs for Christians, for Muslims, for Hindus and for Jews,” Ilann Maazel, Jalal’s attorney told the Post. “Health clubs in New York City should be for everybody, whether you wear a cross, a Star of David or a skirt.”
Lucille Roberts’ attorney Maria Patrizia Zucaro did not respond to requests for comment by the Post or Gothamist.