[COLUMN] $36M settlement in class action alleging fitness instructors were made to work off the lock and forego breaks

A pending settlement in a class action filed by fitness instructors against Equinox— an operator of high-end luxury gyms in major cities throughout the United States— reminds us that employers who don’t take seriously the strict wage-and-hour laws in California likely do so at a price.

A class action was filed against Equinox on behalf of their California-based personal trainers and group fitness instructors, alleging that Equinox failed to comply with California-specific requirements regarding breaks and prohibition of averaging of wages.

Plaintiffs alleged that Equinox placed intense pressure on their trainers and instructors to recruit and retain clients, which compelled employees to spend 70 – 80 hours a week hustling for clients.  A New York Times article described how these employees routinely slept in cars, curled up on yoga mats, or dozed off with heads resting on tables to meet the company’s requirements.  Trainers described the high-pressure sales demands at Equinox as “Hunger Games-style,” requiring that they spend at least 12 hours a day at the gym.

However, the above practice runs afoul of California law’s requirement that employees be paid for all hours worked. Many of the work tasks associated with client recruitment and retention were done off the clock and thus, unpaid.

Plaintiffs alleged that Equinox encouraged employees to perform so-called “session-related activities,”. These included talking with prospective clients, planning routines, setting up exercise programs, and meeting with their supervisors, off the clock.  Instead, trainers and instructors were paid a fixed piece rate when they completed an individual training session or group class.  Under California law, a piece-rate compensation scheme that pays employees for tasks performed cannot be averaged out to also meet California’s requirement that every hour worked be compensated at a rate at least equal to the minimum wage.  Plaintiffs’ class action therefore sought recovery for unpaid wages earned for employees’ off-the-clock session-related activities.

Plaintiffs’ class action also asserted rest-break violations arising from Equinox’s policy requiring instructors to teach at least four, one-hour training sessions in a row without being able to take a rest break.  Under the California Labor Code, employees must be afforded the opportunity to take a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours of work, or major fraction thereof.  Labor Code Section 226.7 requires that employees be paid a premium wage—equal to one hour of pay at their regular hourly rate—for every day that a mandated rest break is not provided.

The $36 million proposed settlement in the case was granted preliminary approval in March 2023.  In a hearing earlier this month, the Court indicated that it would likely grant final approval of the settlement.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential  and at no cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than  25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and  consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal,  consistently selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine, and is a past Presidential Awardee for  Outstanding Filipino Overseas.] 

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