Owners of the Planet Fitness Ewing (NJ), aka New England Fitness Ewing Inc., agreed yesterday to pay $25,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by a former employee, according to an announcement from the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.
Rachel Bronner, who is African-American, worked for Planet Fitness Ewing from June 2012 through early March 2013. In May 2013 she filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that she was wrongly passed over for a promotion and subsequently terminated because of her race and gender.
The settlement agreement states that Planet Fitness Ewing settled the claim while still denying "allegations that it unlawfully discriminated" against the employee, and that "the payment does not reflect any admission of wrongdoing or adjudication of the merits of this case."
The EEOC investigated Bronner's complaint and determined that she had been discriminated against on the basis of race and gender, and the matter was transferred to New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights under a work-sharing agreement. The Division reviewed the case and issued a Finding of Probable Cause that Bronner had been the victim of discrimination, with age and marital status added to the EEOC findings.
"When a business is trying to decide which of its workers should be promoted, it can rely on irrefutable performance factors or even highly subjective considerations," said Division Director Craig T. Sashihara, "but not on the notion that a man with a family deserves to be paid more than a younger single woman. There may be employers in this state who feel that way. However, if they put those thoughts into action and take money out of a woman's wallet, then they have broken the law."
As a front-desk employee of Planet Fitness Ewing, Bronner performed a variety of managerial functions, and alleged that she was passed over in favor of a less-qualified male co-worker for an assistant manager position.
The Planet Fitness franchisee's Chief Operating Office told Division investigators that the male worker who received the promotion was "more mature, married and has real bills" as opposed to Bronner, who was single and "a young girl." In its position paper, Planet Fitness Ewing described Bronner as a "good employee" but said her "age/life experience" worked against her when considered for the promotion.
In addition to not promoting Bronner, Planet Fitness Ewing was accused of terminating her employment in March 2013 for certain conduct—leaving the facility mid-day for a trip to Edison and not specifying what time she would return—that other employees had engaged in previously without being fired. An EEOC investigation report described as "quite dubious" the circumstances surrounding Bronner's dismissal, and characterized the assertion by Planet Fitness that it had a strict policy of termination for such conduct as "simply not worthy of belief."
In addition to the payment, Planet Fitness Ewing must provide the Division on Civil Rights with evidence of a current anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy, and must arrange training on the policy for all management and supervisory staff at the health club.
Among other things, the anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy required of Planet Fitness Ewing under the settlement—and the related training its managers and supervisory staff are required to undergo—must address fair hiring and promotion practices, as well as equity in all aspects of employment including compensation, employment terms and conditions, and privileges.
"Having fair and equitable employment practices—from hiring to compensation to promotions—is not only good business, it is the law," said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. "This case should serve as a message to employers throughout the state that we are committed to ensuring equality in the workplace, and to holding accountable those who fail to provide it."