AG: LA Fitness to stop charging members with disabilities aides’ fees
November 2, 2016
As published by Newsday on November 2, 2016.
LA Fitness gyms across New York will allow aides to disabled people to enter facilities without members paying extra fees after a state investigation sparked by a Copiague woman’s discrimination complaint.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced Tuesday that his office has entered into an agreement with California-based Fitness International LLC that requires the company’s 29 LA Fitness gyms in New York, including several on Long Island, to “revise and strengthen . . . policies in order to expand access for patrons with disabilities.”
The agreement requires the company to waive fees it previously charged members with disabilities who brought along aides to help them while they worked out.
In the case of Christopher Ciatto, 22, of Copiague, who has epilepsy, an LA Fitness facility in Lindenhurst demanded at least $15 extra when he showed up with a private nurse. According to Ciatto’s mother, Claudia, the gym denied Christopher entrance and yelled and hung up on her as she tried to explain by phone that, just days before, the club’s membership representative had assured her no additional fees would be due.
Christopher had already paid a $115 fee when signing up for the gym and was due to pay $40 a month for a membership he was “absolutely thrilled” to have, his mother said Tuesday.
Days later, in May 2015, she said she called the attorney general’s office. Based on her complaint and several others, the office launched an investigation that discovered a fee structure in LA Fitness gyms that, according to prosecutors, violated both the Americans with Disabilities Act and New York State Human Rights Law.
“My office is committed to vigorously enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act, which promises all New Yorkers the opportunity to live fully and independently regardless of disability status,” Schneiderman said in a statement Tuesday.
The agreement requires LA Fitness to do the following:
- Allow disabled members to bring in aides free of charge.
- Designate a management employee at each New York gym to handle disabled members’ requests for an aide, and direct that no denials can be made without first speaking to the company’s general counsel.
- Implement an employee training program on how to handle requests.
- Submit to three years of compliance monitoring.
LA Fitness spokesman Orlando Gonzales said it has been the company’s policy “not to charge for a caregiver who is there to help or accompany one of our members,” adding that the agreement “merely reaffirmed our commitment to that policy.”
Gonzales said the incident involving Ciatto was a “misunderstanding.”
For Claudia Ciatto, the agreement brings to a close a nightmare that she said left her son “very discouraged and disturbed about how he was treated.” He canceled his membership before ever getting to use the club, she said.
The reforms now being undertaken by LA Fitness have taught him a useful lesson, his mother said.
“I told my son, . . . ‘You have been instrumental in changing the policy across New York State,” she said. “He was very happy.”