Religion and the Law

Sex-Segregated Swimming Hours at Condo Violate Fair Housing Law

So holds the Third Circuit, though in a narrow opinion.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


From Curto v. A Counry Place Condo. Ass'n, decided Monday:

Looking to the express terms of the pool policy, the Association emphasizes that it allows for roughly equal swimming time for both men and women in the aggregate. But this is not enough to save the pool schedule, which discriminates in its allotment of different times to men and women in addition to employing sex as its criterion. Under the most recent version of the schedule, women are able to swim for only 3.5 hours after 5:00 p.m. on weeknights, compared to 16.5 hours for men. The schedule also assigns to men the entire period from 4:00 p.m. onward on Friday afternoons. Women with regular-hour jobs thus have little access to the pool during the work week, and the schedule appears to reflect particular assumptions about the roles of men and women.

The majority doesn't opine on whether a more balanced allocation of women-only and men-only would be permissible, but Judge Fuentes's concurrence would have taken a broader position:

While the majority opinion explains that we do not reach the issue of "whether sex-segregated swimming hours necessarily violate the FHA," I write separately to express my skepticism that the pool's sex-segregated schedule could be saved by a more even allocation of evening hours between men and women. Our jurisprudence makes clear that facial discrimination does not become lawful merely because its burdens are felt by members of both sexes….

The concurrence noted that

[Some circuit courts] have determined that in certain circumstances, there may be legal justifications for facial discrimination under the FHA. The Sixth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have concluded that facially discriminatory policies may be justified if a defendant can show that the policies benefit the protected class or respond to legitimate safety concerns. The Eighth Circuit uses a different standard, requiring defendants to demonstrate that the facially discriminatory policy "was necessary to promote a governmental interest commensurate with the level of scrutiny afforded the class of people affected by the law under the equal protection clause."

But it concluded that the court needn't confront the issue, in part because there in any event wasn't enough of a justification for the discrimination. And he noted in particular that the policy couldn't be justified as an accommodation for some residents' religious preferences:

Although the Association defends its discrimination on the basis of the religious concerns of its Orthodox Jewish members, it did not argue that its discriminatory schedule was justified under any recognized exception to the FHA's antidiscrimination provision…. It also waived any argument that its discrimination was protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Association instead argued that if it did not discriminate on the basis of sex, it would be discriminating against its Orthodox Jewish population because they would be unable to use the swimming pool due to religious modesty laws. But there is no evidence in the record of the number of Orthodox Jewish residents who use the pool, and no evidence of the number of Orthodox Jewish pool users who would be unable to use a mixed-sex pool due to religious objections. At the very least, at the summary judgment stage, the Condominium Association was required to put forward more than speculation about the effects of integrating the swimming pool.

The majority agreed:

Although the Condominium Association's pool use policy was motivated by the Orthodox Jewish residents' religious beliefs, the Association did not mention the Religious Freedom Restoration Act at any point in its filings in the District Court or in its merits brief before us. (At our request, the parties discussed RFRA implications in supplemental memoranda.) Thus we determine that the Association has waived any possible RFRA defense to the plaintiffs' FHA claim.

Even had the Association asserted a RFRA defense, it would lack associational standing to assert the religious free exercise rights of its Orthodox Jewish members. To have associational standing, (1) individual members must have standing in their own right, (2) the interest asserted must be germane to the purpose of the organization, and (3) neither the claim nor the relief requested must require the participation of the individual members in the lawsuit. The first prong is easily met here, but the Condominium Association does not have a religious purpose. Moreover, religious beliefs are highly personal, and in a typical RFRA case the parties asserting a burden on their religion would provide personal testimony about their beliefs and the nature of the burden. Here we have only the Association's general assertions as to the beliefs of its Orthodox members.