Thousands of Equinox Employees Win Cert. in Wage Cert

A California federal judge has certified three classes including thousands of Equinox employees, which all accuse the gym of violating wage and other labor laws. The judge ruled that the personal trainers and group fitness instructors have shown that their claims should be resolved via a class action rather than on an individual basis.

U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick granted the employees' motion for class certification – finding that the classes are numerous and there's sufficient evidence of common questions of law and fact, namely Equinox's alleged policies and practices. Decided one way or another, those will resolve the issues on a class wide basis, Judge Orrick said.

Judge Orrick certified a class of employees who said they didn’t receive accurate wage statements, as well as a class of fitness instructors and a second class of individuals with meal break claims. He further noted that the wage statement class would be nearly 3,000 members strong, the fitness instructor class would include more than 5,600, and the meal period class consists of 400.

"The plaintiffs challenge Equinox's written policies and allege that uniform practices require employees to perform off-the-clock work, specifically programming, communicating with clients outside of classes and contacting leads. Equinox denies that its policies or practices do so," Judge Orrick said in his order. "Answering these questions about Equinox's policies and practices — questions that predominate individualized issues — will drive the resolution of this issue."

Judge Orrick appointed Equinox personal trainers and group fitness instructors Frank Fodera and Michael Bonella, and former Pilates and group fitness instructor Genevieve Billson as class representatives, and their attorneys at Makarem & Associates APLC as class counsel.

The judge also declined to strike testimony from two of the workers' expert witnesses, holding that they are qualified, and their testimony was relevant.

The trainers and instructors claim they were all paid on a session rate base that didn't reflect the time they worked outside their shifts, including calling potential clients. On top of that, Fodera, Bonella and Billson said Equinox failed to provide them with accurate wage statements or allow them to take rest breaks while teaching a training session or class.

Equinox had asked the court not to certify the classes, arguing that individual issues prevail over common questions. Equinox also said it has clear policies about meal and rest breaks that are compliant with California labor laws, and the "possibility employees may voluntarily schedule their days in a manner limiting such breaks" doesn't justify class treatment.

Judge Orrick said Tuesday that the questions underlying the claims and proposed classes "essentially boil down to this: Did Equinox have a policy or consistent practice of requiring employees to work off the clock, of failing to provide (or properly pay for) meal and rest breaks, or of issuing unlawful wage statements?"

And the workers' allegations here indeed constitute such a challenge to the company's policies.

"Whether the compensation plan was unlawful and whether employees were lawfully paid for session-related work are questions that can be resolved on a class-wide basis," the judge said. "Individualized issues do not predominate these common questions, as the answers do not depend on the actions or inactions of individual employees, but rather Equinox's compensation plan and job requirements."

And the plaintiffs have offered sufficient evidence of an unofficial policy requiring employees to contact leads while off the clock, he said.

The workers have also submitted adequate evidence to support their claims that they went without meal or rest breaks, along with data suggesting that consecutive scheduling prohibited such breaks from occurring, according to the order.

"Individualized issues will not predominate the common questions of whether Equinox lawfully provided meal and rest breaks, as the plaintiffs again base these claims on various policies and practices," Judge Orrick said.

He certified a class of all employees who worked for Equinox in California from 2018 to the present and who received at least one wage statement with certain pay codes. He also certified a class of fitness instructors who worked for Equinox in California from 2015 until the present and one of individuals who worked for Equinox from 2015 until now with meal period claims.

Fodera first sued Equinox in April 2019 in Alameda County Superior Court. Bonella joined his suit in July of that year and Equinox removed the suit to federal court in August 2019. Billson joined the suit in July 2021.

Specifically, Fodera, Bonella and Billson claim they were required to prepare exercise programs and keep in contact with Equinox members at any time during the day without being compensated.

They also said that Equinox had a policy requiring instructors to teach at least four, one-hour training sessions in a row without being able to take a rest break, in violation of California law.

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