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Muslim man sues LA Fitness, saying managers won't let him pray

Ohio Muslim sues LA Fitness, saying gym managers stopped him from silently praying in locker room

A 28-year-old Ohio man has accused California-based gym chain LA Fitness of violating his civil rights after managers at a location in Cincinnati ordered him not to pray in a locker room, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Mohammed Fall said three managers at a Cincinnati LA Fitness approached him Jan. 29 and told him that he would be permanently barred from the facility if he continued to pray in the locker room, according to the suit, filed in federal court in Ohio.

Fall, who the suit says has regularly exercised at the gym since 2013, says he routinely prayed in empty corners of the facility's locker room after lifting weights or playing basketball. He was praying while standing and facing a wall in his workout clothes when he was confronted by the managers, the suit says.

His habit of praying there “was widely known," his attorney, Timothy Burke, told the Los Angeles Times. "Nobody had an issue with it.”

Fall does not wear any religious clothing or make "audible noises" when engaged in prayer, according to the suit. The managers told Fall he would "no longer be allowed" at the gym if he continued to pray there, the suit says.

LA Fitness, which is based in Irvine, did not immediately respond to an email or phone call seeking comment. A worker at the Cincinnati gym where Fall says the incident occurred said he was unable to speak about the lawsuit.

The gym in Cincinnati, as well as California-based Fitness International and its subsidiary Fitness International of Ohio, are named as defendants in the suit.

Born in Senegal, Fall immigrated to the U.S. in 1999 when he was 12 years old, according to the suit, which said he was raised in an Islamic household and considers himself a practicing Muslim.

Fall says he has seen other men and women making religious gestures after or during workouts, including the Christian sign of the cross, and the suit contends Fall was targeted because of his Muslim faith. 

Burke said that his client is still attending the gym but that the confrontation has made him nervous about doing so.

“While he is still going there, he is being very careful," Burke said. "He is constantly looking over his shoulder to make sure he hasn’t upset anybody.”

Chris Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio, told The Times that Fall being on private property does not preempt his right to religious expression. To win the suit, however, he may have to prove he was targeted because of his faith.

“The proof might be that, in the absence of a policy, they picked him to remove. Not a Catholic. Not a Presbyterian," she said. "If I were standing in line at Target and put my hands together and started muttering the Our Father, I don’t think they could throw me out. I find LA Fitness’ behavior to be pretty perplexing.”

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