Between 2018 and 2019, Robin Europe, a former professional bodybuilder, worked at Equinox on the Upper East Side, where he managed personal trainers. Years earlier, as a scholarship student at Brearley, the girls’ school several blocks away where she started in seventh grade, having come first from the Canaries and then Coney Island, she had experienced the coded prejudice of privileged teens. There was only one other black student in his class. But even that didn’t prepare her for what she described as an unfiltered expression of prejudice from male colleagues at an expensive gym, drenched with the scent of eucalyptus oil if not a base note of wisdom.
Ms. Europe’s tenure at the club was short-lived; Equinox terminated her employment in less than a year because, the company said, she was late 47 times over the course of 10 months. Ms. Europe took a different view of her dismissal, believing that her lateness was merely an excuse for discrimination, and soon filed suit in Manhattan federal court, arguing that she was subjected to a hostile work environment. was followed and eventually let go because of her race and gender. Last week, a predominantly white jury of five women and three men agreed, returning a verdict in less than an hour. The next day they awarded her $11.25 million in damages.
The speed of the jury’s verdict and the size of the award — $10 million in punitive damages and $1.25 million for the distress caused to her — follow a pattern similar to the E. Jean Carroll verdict handed down in the same courthouse a few weeks earlier. In both instances, the process and outcome of the defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump suggest ways in which recent transformative social movements around race and gender may redefine the way juries act in the long shadow of emotional disruption. Think about what can lead to bigotry or sexual violence.
Ms Europe, who was an art student at Oberlin College, was an unexpected entry into the world of fitness. Returning to New York after graduation, she took an office job at David Barton Gym, where she worked to support herself through a tattoo apprenticeship. In 2006, he received his certification as a personal trainer. “Racism and sexism—they’re just pervasive in the fitness industry,” she said when I met her recently at her attorney’s office in Brooklyn.
“In coastal cities, training is something you can do without a degree and you can make $75 an hour — there aren’t a lot of opportunities to do that, so it’s a big draw for people of color. ” But the management structure, she observed, is often white and male.
In response to the verdict, Equinox did not join the current fashion for self-deprecation and vows to do better. Instead, it released a statement saying it “strongly disagrees” with the finding and “does not tolerate discrimination in any form.” In the motion it asked the court to reconsider the case, either through a new trial or a reduction of the award, the lawyers said the jurors, “guided by sympathy and emotion,” had “misconstrued” the plaintiff’s claim. Had bought. that she had been the victim of racial animosity and sustained “immense, unconscionable harm” as a result.
The case revolves in large part around allegations that a manager who reported to Ms. Europe, a middle-aged white man whom she described as insulated from her relationships with those above her, had her as his supervisor. refused to accept. He claimed that he repeatedly directed his obscenities over black women’s bodies, referred to non-employees as “lazy” and expressed hope that he could get them fired; He called a black co-worker “autistic”.
In the early spring of 2019, the suit claims, he “demanded” that his boss wait outside the gym for a young black woman to leave a cafe with him where he worked so he could make a pass at her, on the theory that she would be in a better position with a black man standing next to her. Ms. Europe declined.
The accumulation of these events, she testified, made her time at Equinox so stressful that the bulimia she had struggled with for much of her life worsened. While working there, Ms. Europe told me, his condition was so bad that he vomited several times a day and vomited blood; She eventually had to enter an inpatient treatment program for eating disorders. Her attorneys, all women from Krummiller, which describes itself as “a feminist litigation firm,” argued that their client’s complaints to male bosses went unheard.
On the witness stand, Ms. Europe talked about an incident that left her feeling particularly defeated. One evening in June 2019, she was in her office when she got a call from someone who deals directly with members, a woman speaking to a client who had specifically asked for a white trainer. Ms Europe explained that such a request exposed the company to liability and would need to be moderated by a supervisor, who she assumed would tell the customer that what he was asking for was unreasonable.
She explained how upset she was by her co-worker’s “willingness to relay the request even though it would have just been good customer service to accomplish it.” When she told her boss, he went ahead and let the client keep a white trainer anyway.
Although she was reprimanded in writing a week later by a superior, and was fired a year after that, according to an Equinox spokesperson, Ms. Europe received a second disciplinary warning for lateness the same day she sent an email. wrote. Bringing this issue to the attention of managers and people in Human Resources. Three months later, he was fired.
Ms Europe never denied that she was often late for work, but her lawyers presented jurors with a chart showing how many other people also failed to show up on time. remained, however, with relatively few results.
In their motion to reevaluate the case, Equinox’s lawyers did not dispute that racially and sexually charged comments made by her subordinate occurred, but argued that they were too little to support hostile workplace claims. In addition, they said Ms. Europe suffered emotional distress as a function of her time in the gym, she was not “arrogant” enough – a legal term – to warrant the amount recommended by the jury. .
What is pain in monetary terms remains an endless and divisive question. Judges can – and often do – overrule decisions made by juries in these types of civil cases. For example, some New York state legislators believe that the privilege should be curtailed, arguing that such reversals may seem arbitrary. But even jurors’ conclusions can seem cryptic.
And yet sometimes a remarkable harmony emerges. In November, a federal jury in Texas awarded $366 million to a black saleswoman who sued FedEx for discrimination, in what is thought to be the largest award ever in employment and racial bias litigation I went. Three months later, a federal judge rejected the company’s bid to vacate or reduce the award.