Gay man of color sues LA Fitness for workplace bias

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A Philadelphia gay man of color recently filed a workplace-antibias lawsuit against LA Fitness, alleging he was victimized by antigay slurs, then fired when he complained about the mistreatment.

On Aug 27, “John Doe” filed a 76-page lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez and a jury trial has been requested.

Doe, 32, claims he worked in “a hostile, abusive and unsafe work environment on account of his sexual orientation” at two LA Fitness branches in the region.

According to the lawsuit, in April 2018, Doe was hired as a janitor at an LA Fitness branch on Swede Road in East Norriton. In September 2018, Doe was verbally assaulted by a gym member. Inside a locker room, the man allegedly threatened Doe by stating: “Fucking faggot, I’ll beat your ass.”

Doe complained about the harasser to two managers, who failed to take “prompt and appropriate remedial action to address Doe’s complaint,” according to the lawsuit. 

Instead, one of the managers allegedly told Doe: “There’s nothing I can do.” Dissatisfied with the response, Doe complained to the Human Resources Department — to no avail, according to the lawsuit.

Management refused to suspend or terminate the harasser’s gym membership. Instead, Doe was placed on unpaid leave for two weeks, then transferred to a less desirable LA Fitness branch on City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., according to the lawsuit.

“[LA Fitness] is liable for failing to foster a safe and inclusive work environment for members of the LGBT community, suspending Doe, forcing Doe to lose two weeks’ pay, and transferring him to a new location when he did nothing wrong,” according to the lawsuit.

After disadvantaging Doe by transferring him, LA Fitness officials reduced Doe’s schedule from around five days per week to three days per week, thus causing him to lose further pay, according to the lawsuit

At the Bala Cynwyd location, Doe was given more job responsibilities for which he was not adequately compensated, even after requesting to be fairly paid. He was eventually promoted to the position of “cleaning supervisor” and given a pay increase, according to the lawsuit.

However, Doe was subjected to anti-LGBT slurs at the Bala Cynwyd location, including being called “Bengay” and “bitch” by a co-worker. Once again, Doe complained to management to no avail, according to the lawsuit.

In February 2019, Doe filed an antibias complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, complaining about his transfer to Bala Cynwyd, along with discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

In May 2019 an EEOC investigator assigned to Doe’s case suggested that Doe ask LA Fitness for a $1,000 payment and a raise to $13 an hour to settle the complaint. In the alternative, the EEOC investigator suggested asking for a $400 payment to settle the complaint. Doe declined both suggestions, according to the lawsuit.

The alleged mistreatment of Doe continued at Bala Cynwyd. Doe’s new supervisor “commented that he had heard Doe had issues with others, or words to that effect, which is believed to relate to Doe’s protected conduct/activity in the form of his complaints,” the lawsuit states.

On another occasion when Doe was in the locker room cleaning, the same supervisor commented to Doe, “You know, I have friends who are gay.” On Jan. 28, 2020, Doe complained about this comment to two managers. Later the same day, the offending supervisor terminated Doe. “OK, we are going to part ways right now,” the supervisor told Doe, without giving a specific reason for Doe’s termination, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit goes on to assert “Doe worked for almost two years to defendant’s satisfaction, performing hard work as a janitor, including assuming supervisory responsibilities for which Doe was not commensurately paid, prior to his wrongful discharge.”

Doe’s lawsuit accuses LA Fitness of hostile work environment, failure to promote, harassment, retaliation, compensation discrimination and wrongful discharge. Doe seeks more than $150,000 in damages and reasonable attorney’s fees.

A spokesperson for LA Fitness couldn’t be reached for comment. Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for Doe, said his client continues to suffer the effects of LA Fitness’ alleged mistreatment. “My client was severely wronged,” Robinette told PGN. “He looks forward to vindication in a court of law.”