A black female gym employee said she was fired for advocating racism. The jury awarded her $11.3 million.

After being hired at the high-end Equinox gym in 2018, Röbynn Europe, a black personal trainer, was promoted to oversee a group of 15 employees. But she soon alleged that a white female employee created a “toxic atmosphere” by making lewd comments about black women’s bodies as well as objecting to her being his boss.

Employment in Europe did not last long. Less than a year after starting at Equinox, she was fired—cause of termination being the crux of a lawsuit she filed in 2020. She claims she lost her job because Equinox retaliated against her for calling out racism and sexism at the club while the gym alleges her firing was due to Arriving late 47 times in her 11 months with the company.

Earlier this month, a jury of five women and three men sided with Europe, awarding her $11.25 million, a judgment that includes $10 million in punitive damages against the gym, according to court records.

Millions of employees face toxic workplaces, which can reduce employee performance and affect the worker’s personal life, according For Harvard Business Review. According to Europe’s lawsuit, her experience with Equinox depressed her, caused her “significant emotional distress” and exacerbated her bulimia.

Susan Krumeller, a European attorney, said in a case statement.

“We are also pleased that the jury found that Equinox’s racism had a severe and lasting impact on Robyn’s mental health and that she deserves to be compensated for it.”

After the jury’s decision, the judge directed the parties to meet with a justice of the peace to discuss settlement.

In a statement emailed to CBS MoneyWatch, Equinox said it does not tolerate discrimination “in any form.”

She pointed out that “this is a case of ending a performance related to attendance and nothing more.” Equinox added,[W]Strongly disagree with the jury’s findings, as well as the unfair and excessive verdict, and have filed a motion asking the judge to overturn the jury’s decision.”

Toxic workplace

Equinox is known as a tony gym, with more than 100 locations in cities ranging from New York City to San Francisco. Memberships can cost several hundred dollars a month, with amenities such as “eucalyptus steam rooms” and upscale juice bars.

Europe worked at the Equinox location on East 92nd Street in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the same location with the employee who allegedly spoke racist and sexist language. Europe complained to the company about his remarks, but, the lawsuit alleges, “instead of addressing and fixing these issues, they targeted [Europe] for revenge.”

Allegedly, retaliation came in the form of a citation for the delay. Europe did not deny that it was late, but pointed out that other workers had done much the same and had not been reprimanded. Her lawsuit alleged that she was “never late for a client training appointment, never left a client waiting, and regularly stayed an hour or more after the end of her shift regardless of what time she arrived.”

The man who allegedly made the sexist and racist comments was among those who “regularly arrived at work after their official start times without any consequences”. The lawsuit also alleged that the employee “often leaves work early without any repercussions.”

The suit alleged that this led Europe to believe it was “selected to selectively enforce time and attendance policies in retaliation for its participation in legally protected activities”.

Prosecutors say just months after she complained about the club’s toxic work environment, Equinox fired her, citing her tardiness as her reason.

The trial included “quick data” from other Equinox workers that showed the other managers had worse time and attendance records than Europe, even though she was the only worker disciplined, her attorney said.

In addition to $10 million in punitive damages, the jury awarded Europe $1.25 million in compensatory damages and $16,000 in economic damages representing back pay.

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