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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Harassed at Lucille|Roberts, Jewish Woman Says

MANHATTAN (CN) - An observant Jew's gym membership at Lucille Roberts has become a nightmare - with workers screaming at her and threatening to call the police - all because she wears a knee-length skirt while she works out for religious reasons, she claims in a federal complaint.

"Public accommodations must serve people regardless of race, creed or religion under federal, state and city law, whether they wear a kippah, a skirt or a cross of ash on their forehead," Yosefa Jalal said in the lawsuit filed Friday.

The 15-page action describes Jalal as a Long Island-born Brooklyn resident who teaches math while studying for her master's degree at Brooklyn College.

As an observant Jew, 25-year-old Jalal says she keeps kosher, attends synagogue and observes the Sabbath. The complaint notes that she recently changed her first name from Sarah.

Having been a member of the popular New York fitness club Lucille Roberts since 2011, Jalal says she mainly began going to the gym's location on Kings Highway when she returned from seminary in Jerusalem in 2013.

Because her religion requires her to keep a modest appearance in public, Jalal wears a knee-length, fitted skirt with tights when she is out in public.

Several pictures of the ensemble appear in an exhibit filed with the complaint.

Another exhibit includes a copy of the Lucille Roberts dress code, which makes no mention of skirts but does take aim at flannel, denim and "street clothes."

Oddly, the dress code does shame women who elect to wear sweatpants at the gym, saying they should instead "dress appropriately" and "look your best."

Jalal says the first time a manager yelled at her for wearing a skirt, she was using the elliptical machine in October 2013.

She wore the skirt to gym every time since then without incident for another year until someone warned her about the skirt at the Kings Highway location again in 2014, according to the complaint.

Jalal says she began going to a different Lucille Roberts in Flatbush. She made it eight months there until a manager complained about her skirt this past June, according to the complaint.

But Jalal says the confrontations have escalated.

First a manager accused of trespassing by wearing the wrong attire. Another time, the gym brought a kickboxing class to a halt and refused to resume until Jalal removed her skirt.

"Some participants screamed at Ms. Jalal," the complaint states. "Ms. Jalal was embarrassed, upset, and shocked."

Jalal says she retreated to an elliptical to work out alone but that a gym worker tracked her down there and told her that her membership had been revoked.

"The police are on their way," the worker said, according to the complaint.

Jalal says she has not returned to a Lucille Roberts location since that confrontation on July 1.

"Ms. Jalal wants to be readmitted to Lucille Roberts," the complaint states. "She wants to be treated the same as other women. She wants to take classes and work out in peace."

Jalal is represented by Ilann Maazel of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.

"We look in the world and we see so much intolerance and division, especially in New York City where we have people from all backgrounds," Maazel said in a phone interview. "Lucille Roberts needs to be more tolerant, accepting and understanding."

This past summer, Emery Celli won a $4.48 million settlement for clients alleging shocking anti-Semitism at the Pine Bush school district in the Catskills.

Jalal seeks punitive damages and an injunction for civil rights violations.

"All I want is to work out and take classes like everyone else," Jalal said in the statement. "It isn't fair for Lucille Roberts to target me because I'm Jewish."

Lucille Roberts did not reply to request for comment.

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