A new pattern is emerging for U.S. companies.
Mobile technology is changing they way corporations are responding to local incidents in their stores, and viral videos are making local stories into national crises.
After Starbucks was forced to address racial bias in a Philadelphia location after a manager called the police on two black men, a New Jersey L.A. Fitness almost identically replicated the situation. However, L.A. Fitness was watching how Starbucks handled its crisis, including the backlash after the company didn’t immediately fire the manager who had called the police.
The gym made a different move, swiftly terminating the manager and two other employees.
The firings came after one of the men involved, Tshyrad Oates, posted a video to Facebook showing Oates and his pal standing in the gym surrounded by police who were called to the scene by gym workers.
“You kicked me out the gym for no reason,” Oates’ friend, who was not identified, can be heard saying in one of a series of four clips.
“I’ve been having multiple problems with this club. I was asked to scan in again for no reason,” the man says. “I’ve been a member here for at least eight years.”
The video shot by the two black men has been viewed over 700,000 times.
L.A. Fitness released a statement to apologize to its customers and reassure the public.
“Regrettably, our staff unnecessarily escalated the situation and called the police rather than work through it, ” the statement said. “Clearly, this is a long time member with a current, valid membership. We want to clarify that no membership was cancelled and no one, including the member’s guest, was banned from the club. We have spoken to the member to apologize and assured him that he and his guests are welcome in our clubs at all times.”
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L.A. Fitness has yet to explore other remedies, such as Starbucks’ plan to close thousands of stores for a day of racial-sensitivity training. In its statement, the gym chain said it would consider that option.
L.A. Fitness said in its statement that the employee who asked for the customer’s membership card after he previously had it scanned “was not working when this member checked in the first time, so she was unaware.”
L.A. Fitness also said it is “exploring potential training content and opportunities to better train our staff.”
On Twitter, many expressed their anger over the incident.
@LAFitness my wife a black women is looking for a gym to join why should she join LA Fitness after what happened in New Jersey’s LA Fitness please retweet LA Fitness let’s have a public conversation
— ZayPrime (@zaysr) April 19, 2018
It’s sad that people are being treated like dirt because of their skin colour. https://t.co/X3J3cOnWKQ
— Joy Wesley (@Joywesey) April 19, 2018
Some defended the gym, claiming that the behavior was the result of new hiring.
I went to that gym for over four years when I lived in New Jersey. Was at the Secaucus gym literally two weeks ago before I moved. The staff, for the most part, was very multi- cultural and friendly. These new hires they recently had are dimwits. Not a reflection of LA Fitness.
— Gregg Sorachi (@gregg_thomas) April 19, 2018
Others noted that L.A. Fitness was following Starbucks’ crisis response playbook.
Gyming While BLACK:
LA Fitness manager in Secaucus New Jersey called 911 on the only black gym member (who has a SEVEN YEAR MEMBERSHIP) who decided to bring a friend on a Guest Pass.
Manager then CANCELLED the man’s membership.
LA Fitness taking cues from Starbucks. https://t.co/d9nvdo73W7
— Jesenia (@jgoodiebag) April 19, 2018
Some applauded the gym for swiftly firing the employees who had called the police:
Actions speak louder than words y’all! LA Fitness fires 3 workers after black men get kicked out of New Jersey gym https://t.co/3F194ewnpC
— ShawnJ West (Actor) (@Star_ShawnJ) April 18, 2018
L.A. Fitness hasn’t taken to its social media channels to address the situation, instead letting its actions speak for themselves.
What do you think of the gym’s crisis response? Should it take further steps, á la Starbucks?