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LA Fitness apologizes after racial profiling allegations at club

LA Fitness has apologized after accusations that two black patrons at a New Jersey club were racially profiled and asked to leave. The fitness chain also promised to improve staff training.

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Darran Simon (CNN)
(CNN) — LA Fitness has apologized after accusations that two black patrons at a New Jersey club were racially profiled and asked to leave. The fitness chain also promised to improve staff training.

One of the patrons, Tshyrad Oates, posted videos of the encounter on Facebook.

Oates' Facebook post said he and a friend were booted from the gym in Secaucus, New Jersey, on Monday even though Oates had a guest pass and his friend was a current member.

A manager told the pair Oates was banned and his workout partner's membership was immediately revoked, the post said.

Secaucus police officers were called to the gym, but officers didn't arrest anyone.

In a statement Thursday, LA Fitness said, referring to Oates' workout partner, "Clearly, this is a long time member, with a current, valid membership. We want to clarify that no membership was canceled and no one, including the member's guest, was banned from the club."

Oates said his workout partner "felt racially profiled and embarrassed by the harassment" from the employee in front of other gym members.

In a brief interview Thursday with CNN, Oates said he felt racially profiled as well.

What happened

In the Facebook post, Oates said he signed in under the four-day guest pass to work out with a friend, a current member who was already at the gym. About 30 minutes later, the employee who signed Oates in told him he had to leave or pay, Oates wrote.

Oates wrote that he reminded the employee that he had already signed in with her, using the guest pass.

Unaware that a manager had signed in Oates' workout partner, the employee said Oates' workout partner was the one who didn't pay, Oates wrote. Oates' workout partner told the employee that he was an active member but his gym tag was in his locker, Oates wrote.

As Oates and his friend continued working out, two police officers arrived and questioned the two men about their memberships, Oates wrote.

Oates explained to them about his guest pass, and his workout partner rescanned his gym tag, according the Facebook post.

They resumed working out and 10 minutes later a manager told the two men to leave, according to Oates.

Oates said they told the manager they didn't do anything wrong.

He said other police officers soon arrived and also asked the two men to leave.

LA Fitness responds

In a statement, LA Fitness said the front desk employee was confused and thought the member was a guest. The member explained to the employee he wasn't but didn't want to retrieve his membership card for a second time, LA Fitness said.

That employee was not working when the member checked in for the first time, the company said.

"Regrettably, from there our staff unnecessarily escalated the situation and called the police rather than work through it," LA Fitness said.

LA Fitness said they have apologized to the current member and assured him that "he and his guests are welcome in our clubs at all times."

"We are currently exploring potential training content and opportunities to better train our staff," LA Fitness said.

Secaucus Police Capt. Dennis Miller said police were called to the gym around 9:14 a.m. after a report about patrons who were refusing to scan in.

One person did scan but there was some discrepancy about the membership, and management wanted the person to leave, Miller said.

Miller said Secaucus officers de-escalated what could have been a volatile situation.

The episode comes after two black men were handcuffed within minutes of arriving at a Philadelphia Starbucks after the store manager called police because the men hadn't ordered.

The arrest sparked protests and an apology from Starbucks.

The coffee chain said it plans to close its 8,000 company-owned stores in the United States to educate employees about racial bias on May 29.

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