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Women`s Issues/Employee restroom & privacy laws


I work at a fitness gym as an instructor for all ages (toddlers to adults). We have had a separate male and female employee changing / dressing rooms until recently when they converted it into a different use space. Now the employees can only use the public restrooms, which can be extremely uncomfortable when mothers bring their under age boys (some are my students) into the dressing room to shower and change clothes beside me. Several of the female employees, myself included, have verbally expressed their privacy concerns regarding this matter to upper management, who seems less than concerned that it is a valid issue. The female employees feel very uncomfortable being put in this awkward position of having to change in front of their students (whether it is under age boys or other females) but feel they have no other choice since many of us teach a variety of different style classes and often have to change several times a day. The employees have been told that we cannot use the bathroom stalls to change in. What, if any, laws are in place to protect a employee's privacy in this situation when made to change in the same room as their students, some of which are under age and of the opposite sex?

Dear Julie:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law, administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), prohibits employers of fifteen or more persons from discriminating against employees on the basis of gender.  There are similar municipal ordinances in various cities and states. I do not know whether the employer's policy that you describe would be in violation of Title VII.

First, do the employees at this fitness gym have a union that represents them?  If so, it would be well to ask the union to bring the employees' grievance about this matter to the union's attention and ask them to complain to the fitness gym about it.

If there is no union, you could go to your nearest office of the EEOC (the EEOC has a website and its offices should be listed or you can call their headquarters in Washington, DC, and inquire as to the location of their office nearest to the fitness gym)and speak to the Officer of the Day about whether there have been any charges or lawsuits decided involving violations of Title VII for a situation similar to yours and asking how that was resolved.  You would also have the right to file a charge of discrimination.  I must advise you, however, that this could result in retaliation against you by your employer, even though that is also prohibited by Title VII.  You might consider getting a group of dissatisfied employees to file charges, too. Whether that would help avoid retaliation, I do not know.

Sixty days after the EEOC gets the case (and they might first have to send it on to the State Agency for the requisite period of time before getting the case returned to them), you would have the right to file a lawsuit against the company.

Going to the EEOC and filing a charge with them wouldn't cost you any money.  But a lawyer to file a lawsuit would. It is, however, possible that after such a charge is filed,the employer would change its policy.

Another possibility is to hire a lawyer now, alone or with a group of employees, and have him or her advise the employer that you, or a group of employees, plan to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC for these policies.  That, again, could open you up to retaliatory treatment by the employer.


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Sonia Pressman Fuentes


I am an author, public speaker, feminist leader and lawyer. I was the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and a founder of WEAL (Women`s Equity Action League) and FEW (Federally Employed Women). I am an expert in the field of women`s rights to be free of employment discrimination based on sex.


I spent eight years as an attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and worked for one year as a volunteer attorney with the Montgomery County, MD, Human Relations Commission. I have lectured all over the world and the U.S. on women's rights to be free of employment discrimination based on sex and had articles on the subject published in newspapers, magazines, and journals and on the Internet. I also spent 11 years with multinational corporations in the field of EEO and labor law.

I belong to NOW and the Veteran Feminists of America nationally and the Brandeis University National Women's Committee in Sarasota, FL. I am a member of the board of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in Sarasota, FL.

See my Web site at for articles written by me, information on my memoir, "Eat First--You Don't Know What They'll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter," and interviews of me.

I have an LLB from the University of Miami School of Law in Florida.

Awards and Honors
I received a superior performance award at the EEOC and was inducted into the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, among other awards and honors.

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