New York

Uproar After NJ Gym Calls Police on Black Member, Guest

A New Jersey branch of LA Fitness is under fire after a guest and member accused gym employees of calling the police on them in what they felt was a case of racial profiling. 

Now-viral videos posted to Facebook from the Secaucus location of the gym chain showed several police officers in the lobby after Tshyrad Oates and his friend, a member of the club, went to the location Monday for a workout. The exchange -- just a days after the arrests of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks prompted the coffee giant to shut down all stores for racial bias training -- has sparked growing outrage on social media.

Oates said in the post he was working out with a four-day guest pass and had signed in with his friend. They worked out for about half an hour before they were approached by an employee who said they had to pay or leave, even though they said they both had already signed in.

Oates said he had used a guest pass, and his friend said he had signed in and his gym tag was in his locker.

"He felt racially profiled and embarrassed by the harassment of this La Fitness employee in front of other members at the gym," Oates wrote.

Oates said two officers responded after the interaction and questioned them on why they were at the gym without memberships. That's when Oates' friend, who said he had been a member for at least eight years, was scanned his ID again.

"What's that say on the screen," Oates' friend asks the employee in one of the videos, who doesn't respond and walks away. 

In a subsequent video, Oates' friend says "We're the only two black people in here. Been having problems with this gym for months."

Oates said after the exchange he was told he was banned from the gym and his friend's membership was terminated. They were both then asked to leave. 

NBC 4 New York has reached out to LA Fitness seeking comment, but the gym chain said in a statement to it apologized to Oates' friend and made it clear that his membership was still valid. It also told the outlet it was "exploring potential training content and opportunities to better train our staff."

"Regrettably, our staff unnecessarily escalated the situation and called the police rather than work through it," the gym said in a statement.

An employee at the Secaucus gym who answered the phone later told that a manager and two others had been fired following the incident. But it was unclear if the man was privy to the decision or authorized to speak to the press on the gym's behalf.

Secaucus Police Chief Kevin Flaherty said officers were called in for an "issue about whether they were members or abusing guest passes." 

"I think the officers did a good job," he said. "Our main goal is to keep the peace."

In the two days since the video, the Secaucus location's Facebook and Yelp pages have been flooded with one-star reviews from users across the country. 

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