24 Hour Fitness employees file discrimination suit

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Brian Watt/KPCC

Raoul Fulcher speaks out against 24 Hour Fitness at a press conference announcing a class action lawsuit accusing the company of racial and gender discrimination, July 13, 2010.

Six former and current employees of 24 Hour Fitness are suing the gym operator, claiming racial and gender discrimination.

The suit’s lead plaintiff is 46-year-old Rauol Fulcher. He started with 24 Hour Fitness as an entry level sales counselor 17 years ago in San Jose. Since then, he’s worked in at least 14 locations in California and Hawaii.

"I just love what I do," said Fulcher. "I like helping people, seeing people change their lives and improve their lives. "

Fulcher has risen as high as a general manager in the fitness chain. But for seven years, he’s pushed for a promotion to district manager with no success. He maintains that his higher-ups at 24 Hour Fitness have denied him that promotion because he’s African-American, while numerous white male colleagues have moved up ahead of him. The former college football player said that’s tough.

"I would take my athletic discipline and apply it towards business, and I didn’t get the result that I’m looking for," Fulcher said.

Five other employees, including Latinos and women, have joined the class action lawsuit. They allege that the San Ramon-based company systematically favors white males when it comes to promotions and pay raises.

Former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee says minorities and women are the majority of the fitness chain’s employees below the management level, but their numbers dwindle higher up the management ladder.

"24 Hour Fitness promises its customers a family fitness environment, but our investigation revealed and our complaint alleges that 24 Hour Fitness does not treat its minority and women employees as part of the family,"

Lee and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the class action lawsuit on the employees’ behalf.

In response, 24 Hour Fitness issued the following statement:

"24 Hour Fitness is an Equal Employment Opportunity Employer and we are deeply committed to providing a work environment that is free from unlawful discrimination and retaliation.

"24 Hour Fitness makes its hiring and promotional decisions without regard to race, national origin, gender or any other protected basis. We firmly deny the allegations made in the complaint and we expect to prevail when all the facts are heard. "

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