Attorney Files $10M Lawsuit Against Health Club Alleging False Claim of Lewd Behavior
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Paul R. Bedard, Esquire
A lawsuit filed earlier this year by a former partner of a large law firm whose health club membership was terminated for alleged misconduct highlights the duties owed to our members and guests. Reviewing this suit also provides an opportunity to recap some of the best practices that should be applied when having to suspend or terminate someone's membership or guest privileges.
The plaintiff, Richard Hammond, filed a lawsuit in New York against Equinox, asserting claims of defamation, negligence, gross negligence, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligent infliction of emotional distress, as well as negligent hiring, supervision and training. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Hammond has suffered, "immense financial and emotional harm, as well as irreparable public embarrassment and harm to his reputation," with damages estimated by the plaintiff to be more than $10 million dollars.
Mr. Hammond alleges that Equinox, "sought to promote an image of its clubs as venues for immoral behavior," for more than a decade before the allegation of lewd behavior on the plaintiff's part. The suit ties this claimed promotion of Equinox's image by asserting that Equinox, in response to increasing complaints of immoral conduct in its clubs, "systematically failed to safeguard its members from such false and defamatory statements by adoption of a so-called 'zero-tolerance' policy that, in fact, was a tactic to recklessly afford zero protection to its members' legitimate rights."
The complaint goes on to say that Equinox acted recklessly by intentionally failing to follow its protocols as they relate to allegations of inappropriate conduct on the part of the plaintiff, alleging that Equinox unilaterally terminated the plaintiff's membership, "without investigating or otherwise attempting to verify the false allegation," against the plaintiff.
As for the timeline of the events at issue, the suit states that Mr. Hammond is an attorney specializing in international arbitration and litigation and a now-former member of Equinox whose conduct had never been questioned before the alleged behavior. However, in May of 2018, an Equinox Front Desk Associate reported that he saw Mr. Hammond masturbating in the steam room of the Equinox Wall Street health club. The lawsuit claims that the then Front Desk Associate who made the report, Michael Alexander, had received a final warning from Equinox some 20 days before the alleged lewd behavior, causing Mr. Alexander to maliciously fabricate a defamatory allegation against the plaintiff to, "bolster his bargaining position in his escalating attack on his then-employer."
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