Behind the Scenes

Life Time Fitness Lawsuit Similar to Sandusky Case

When an arrest was made last fall of a Life Time Fitness trainer accused of sexually abusing boys at the club, you had the feeling the news was only going to get worse. So far, it has.

Last week, a 22-year-old Chicago-area man filed a lawsuit against Life Time Fitness and the trainer, Robert Theodore, claiming Theodore sexually molested him at the club (and other places) as a 16-year-old and that Life Time failed to do a criminal history search when it hired Theodore in 2001 that would have revealed him as a convicted felon.

The lawsuit claims Theodore was indicted in 1986 in Arizona of molesting a child under the age of 15. The Chicago Tribune recently contacted a representative for the county attorney's office in Pima County, AZ, confirming Theodore’s conviction on a charge of attempted child molestation. Theodore served jail time before moving to the Chicago area in the 1990s.

The lawsuit includes a 2003 letter from a "concerned member" of Life Time addressed to the vice president of human resources in the corporate office of Life Time in Chanhassen, MN. In the letter, the member claims Theodore was a convicted child molester. Despite the letter, the lawsuit states Theodore continued to be employed by Life Time up until his arrest last September, 10 years after the letter was written.

This case is similar to the one involving former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty last year of abusing 10 boys during a 15-year period and convicted on 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse. He is serving a prison term that will last 30 to 60 years. Some of the sexual abuse activity occurred on campus in the Penn State football athletic complex.

Last month, a sixth lawsuit was filed against Penn State. An attorney for the university said last month that he was working with 28 claimants—18 more than were the subject of Sandusky's criminal trial—on monetary settlements, although not all claimants have made settlement demands.

The Freeh Report released last year claims, in part, that Penn State officials covered up or did not act promptly enough when sexual abuse allegations involving Sandusky arose as far back as 1998. The family of Joe Paterno, the late Penn State head football coach who was fired in the wake of the scandal, released its own report Sunday that raised questions about the findings in the Freeh Report.

Both cases involve allegations of sexual abuse by an employee on company property. And in both cases, the institutions where the alleged abuse took place are accused of not responding to either allegations or concerns involving the alleged sexual predator. Although the Life Time lawsuit is the only one filed involving Theodore, sources say more lawsuits could be forthcoming from alleged victims.

For now, Life Time is not commenting on the case, saying that it was surprised to learn of the allegations and that it assisted local authorities in their investigation. The company says it remains committed to the safety of children and their families in its clubs.

In the end, it may turn out that Life Time was 10 to 12 years too late in its cooperation.

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