Fitness club employees spend their days looking at and trying to improve human bodies. Clothing made for fitness and to accentuate the body is worn. In this type of workplace, sexual harassment is bound to occur.
Earlier this month, Jonathan Prince, a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Sherman Oaks, California, filed a lawsuit against his female manager. The suit alleges that the manager hit on Mr. Prince by asking him out and sending him suggestive text messages. When Mr. Prince asked her to stop she gave him negative reviews in retaliation, which hurt his chances of receiving a promotion or bonus. Mr. Prince is seeking over $50,000 in damages. This case highlights the fact that the victim of sexual harassment is not always female.
In 2004, the same club, 24 Hour Fitness, was ordered to pay $2.4 million to Cynthia Malek, a former employee who was fired because she complained that male co-workers were sexually harassing her. The company attempted to demote her from a management position to a sales position. Ms. Malek refused to accept the demotion and was fired. According to the arbitrator’s comments, several of the criticisms that led to the attempted demotion of Ms. Malek came from the men she claimed had sexually harassed her. Even after damages were awarded to her, Ms. Malek continued to fight to have the ruling made public. She felt that the 24 Hour Fitness company as a whole tolerated sexual harassment and she wanted others to be aware of her situation. A year later, the ruling was publicized.
Not all cases of sexual harassment in fitness clubs are filed by employees that work directly with patrons. In August 2011, Allstar Fitness settled a sexual harassment suit and agreed to pay $150,000 to a janitorial worker who was allegedly sexually assaulted numerous times by her supervisor. The supervisor told her to keep quiet about it or she would lose her job. When she asked him to stop, he fired her the next day. The claim filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on her behalf claims that the club’s upper management never investigated her allegations. The settlement also requires the company to establish a complaint procedure and policies regarding sexual harassment and to provide employee training. Michael Baldonado, District Director of EEOC stated, “No one should be forced to choose between personal dignity and the paycheck that feeds your family.”
Mr. Prince’s case and the janitorial worker’s case both involve “quid pro quo” harassment. This type of harassment occurs when an individual’s job, salary, or promotion are contingent upon them performing sexual favors. Refusing sexual advances in this type of case often results in loss of hours, wages, or promotion, or the employee may be terminated.
Another type of sexual harassment occurs when an employee is made uncomfortable in the workplace by inappropriate touching, jokes or pictures of a sexual nature, or sexual comments. This is called “hostile work environment” sexual harassment. This type of harassment is evident in Ms. Malek’s case where male co-workers made suggestive comments to her and were not disciplined.
Just because either type of harassment was tolerated by the victim, even for an extended period of time, that does not mean he or she does not have a case. It is important to contact an attorney, such as the Kentucky sexual harassment attorneys at Charles W. Miller & Associates, to determine if sexual harassment has occurred.
24 Hour Fitness faces sexual harassment lawsuit; Los Angeles Times; October 18, 2011
Health club pays $2.4 million in sexual harassment case: Ex-employee wins award and right to publicize ruling; Demian Bulwa; June 9, 2004
EEOC Files Sexual Harassment Lawsuit On Behalf Of Fitness Club Employee; Compliance Training Group; August 31, 2011