(Editor's Note: LA Fitness sent a statement to Club Industry on Nov. 15 about this agreement. It has been added to the third paragraph of this story.)
Fitness International LLC, the owner and operator of LA Fitness, came to an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to revise and strengthen its policies to expand access for patrons with disabilities, according to a Nov. 2 announcement from the attorney general.
Schneiderman's office began investigating LA Fitness in May 2015 after receiving complaints that the gym would not modify its membership policy to waive fees for aides who were required to accompany individuals with disabilities. Under the agreement, LA Fitness will ensure it offers free access to aides of individuals accompanying disabled patients at its 29 fitness centers throughout New York.
A statement that LA Fitness sent to Club Industry on Nov. 15 said that the company already offered free access to aids and that the issue in the New York club was a misunderstanding.
The statement reads: "This agreement with the Attorney General did not change LA Fitness policy. For years it has been the policy in all of our clubs nationwide, not just the New York clubs, to not charge for a caregiver who is there to help or accompany one of our members. This agreement being referenced did not change our policy in any way, but merely re-affirmed our commitment to that policy and our desire to provide full and equal access to our club facilities and services. In fact, in the one incident that led to this agreement, the member was told when the membership was purchased that he would not have to pay for his caregiver(s) to enter the club with him. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding later arose as to whether a person accompanying that member on a club visit was truly a caregiver. We regret this misunderstanding, and for that reason, this agreement was entered."
Claudia Ciatto, community educator at the Epilepsy Foundation of Long Island, is a complainant in this case, which involved her son.
“My son and I reached out to the Attorney General’s Office because we were frustrated by the unequal treatment he was receiving at LA Fitness," Ciatto said. "Charging a person with a disability extra fees to participate in an activity is the definition of discrimination. People with disabilities have the right to be treated with the same respect and consideration that any other person is given. No one has the right to lessen a person’s worth. This facility clearly discriminated against my son, and we couldn’t be happier that we have become part of changing its policy.”
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the New York State Human Rights Law, require places of public accommodation to modify policies and procedures to accommodate individuals with disabilities. The Attorney General’s Office found that the refusal of employees at LA Fitness to modify its policies regarding membership fees for individuals with disabilities who required the presence of aides while working out was not in compliance with these statutes.
Ciatto reported that employees at the Lindenhurst branch of LA Fitness refused entry to her son, who has a disability, unless he paid a guest fee for the licensed practical nurse who was required to accompany him while he worked out. As a result of the fitness center’s continued refusal to waive this fee, her son was forced to cancel his gym membership, according to the attorney general.
To address this issue, the release from the attorney general said that LA Fitness has agreed to:
- adjust its policies to ensure that membership fees are waived for individuals who require the accompaniment of aides,
- train its employees to properly implement these policies and handle requests for reasonable accommodations in accordance with state and federal laws,
- submit to three years of monitoring by the Attorney General’s Office
- provide the aforementioned complainant with an 18-month, no-cost membership as well as $5000 in relief