Equinox Fails to Avoid Age Discrimination Suit

Equinox has failed to dodge its’ most recent suit which alleges the gym fired a 51-year-old front desk employee because of his age. The New York federal judge for the case ruled that a reasonable jury could conclude that the gym company used minor policy infractions as an excuse to get rid of him.

Equinox Holding Inc.’s bid for summary judgment was denied on April 14th by U.S. District Judge Lewis J. Liman – allowing Gregory teachey’s claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and New York Human Rights Law to head to trial.

Teachey said in his suit, filed in November 2018, that colleagues made several comments about his age during his year working for the gym and that he was fired after two relatively minor policy violations. However, Equinox argued that the two violations occurred within a two-week period, including letting a guest in without signing liability paperwork, which warranted his termination.

Judge Liman said, though, that a reasonable jury could find that these policy violations were pretextual and that the real reason Teachey was fired was his age. The evidence suggests that Equinox did not know how old Teachey was until after it hired him, and comments made by supervisors were more than "stray remarks," according to the opinion.

"There may be many different reasons why a person may make reference to a person's membership in a protected class without the reference reflecting a discriminatory bias against that person," Judge Liman said in his opinion. "At the same time, however, it is also the case that 'disapproval — and therefore prejudice — may be expressed in highly indirect ways.'"

Teachey was hired as a front desk associate for a New York City Equinox location in February 2017, responsible for greeting and checking in guests and members as they entered. Teachey was 50 when he was hired, while most of the other people working at the front desk were in their 20s or 30s. In multiple instances, supervisors suggested he was too old to be working at the front desk or expressed surprise at his age.

On Jan. 20, 2018, Teachey was caught out of uniform during his shift and written up by a supervisor, though Teachey declined to sign the disciplinary document. Teachey had never been cited for a policy violation before this, according to the opinion.

On Jan. 30, 2018, there was a second incident involving Teachey in which an Equinox member and his guest entered the gym without being checked in. Teachey says he was not at the desk when they entered — though they were greeted by someone else — and the first time he encountered the member and his guest was when they were near the manager's offices.

Teachey said he told the member he had a guest pass available, and the two customers then went upstairs. A membership adviser then asked where the member and his guest had gone, and after Teachey answered, Equinox said a supervisor was alerted that Teachey allowed a guest to enter without properly checking in.

Teachey said he was fired by Equinox on Feb. 6, 2018, for this violation despite the fact that he was not the employee at the front desk when the member and his guest entered. When he tried to tell his supervisors to look at who was at the front desk at the time, Teachey said a supervisor told him that it wasn't important.

Edgar M. Rivera, who is representing Teachey, told Law360 that Judge Liman "made the right decision for the right reasons" and that he was glad the court saw things the same way he did.

"We're very happy with the decision," Rivera said. "It was what we expected, and we're looking forward to presenting the case in front of the jury. Mr. Teachey has waited a long time."

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