In a roundabout victory for transgender rights and a direct defeat for Richard Simmons, an L.A. Superior Court Judge tentatively ruled Wednesday that the National Enquirer and Radar Online’s erroneous claims that the fitness guru is transgender does not constitute libel.
According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Judge Gregory Keosian ruled that their incorrect reporting does not constitute “hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy,” and therefore does not rise to the level of defamation.
“While, as a practical matter, the characteristic may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them,” Keosian ruled.
The initial ruling is a blow for Simmons, who sued the Enquirer in a bombshell lawsuit in May, which also alleged former associate Mauro Oliveira had “blackmailed, extorted and stalked” him.
The lawsuit alleged that Oliveira — who was not named as a defendant in the suit — was selling false and libelous information about Simmons to the National Enquirer and Radar Online, both owned by American Media, Inc.
The suit continues that the Enquirer and Radar “knew and acted in reckless disregard for the fact that the information provided by Mr. Oliveira was false and that he was not a credible or reliable source.”
The courts have long ruled that misidentifying someone’s race is not defamatory, and Keosian indicated that transgender cases should be treated the same way.
“Being transgender is an issue that often (although not always) requires a medical diagnosis and medical intervention. Like race, being transgender is an immutable characteristic. Although there is no connection between homosexuality and being transgender, both characteristics relate to sex and gender,” he wrote.
Simmons plans to appeal the decision, PEOPLE has confirmed.
The exercise guru did not attend the ruling Wednesday and has not been seen publicly since February 2014.