San Ramon, CA — 24 Hour Fitness, San Ramon, CA, is the target of discrimination claims as well as a lawsuit involving the rebranding of some of its clubs.

Earlier this year, two former 24 Hour Fitness employees claim they were forced out of their jobs after they complained about discrimination in the workplace, allegations that 24 Hour denies.

Former district managers Paul Drobot and Reggie Allison claim that they heard sexist, racist and homophobic language at work. They then claim they were demoted and eventually forced out for complaining to 24 Hour's human resources department.

The two filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission recently upheld the complaint after a two-year investigation and is now trying to mediate a settlement between the two groups.

“24 Hour Fitness firmly denies the charges made in these two (Drobot and Allison) cases,” 24 Hour said in a statement sent to Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro. “We have fully participated in proceedings sponsored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and continue to look to the EEOC to help the parties resolve these cases, without the need for litigation. 24 Hour Fitness is an equal employment opportunity employer that is deeply committed to providing a work environment that is free from unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation.”

A separate case involving a class-action lawsuit against 24 Hour is currently in the discovery phase. The lawsuit was filed last fall in Alameda County (CA) Superior Court on behalf of three people who were sold all-club memberships which they say did not allow them to use all 24 Hour Fitness clubs. Last year, 24 Hour closed two Sport clubs, one in Folsom, CA, and one in Moraga, CA, and opened new clubs in the same cities under the name 24 Hour Fitness Super Sport.

24 Hour has different tiers of clubs, each with different amenities and pricing. Active/Express/FitLite clubs are at the lowest level, followed by Sport clubs, Super Sport clubs and Ultra Sport clubs. 24 Hour also has signature clubs associated with sports stars. Members do not have access to clubs that are at a higher level than their club.

The complaint alleges that in an effort to increase memberships, 24 Hour rebranded existing clubs and built new facilities under the name Sport, Super Sport and Ultra Sport, informing members of the old clubs that they must upgrade their memberships at higher monthly dues to use the rebranded clubs. The plaintiffs also say the distinctions between the different levels of clubs are not meaningful because the higher-level clubs do not have some of the amenities outlined by 24 Hour.

“It's the classic bait and switch. You can't sell to members an all-club membership and then turn around and create a whole new tier of clubs that those all-club members are now excluded from,” says Ivo Labar, an attorney with Kerr and Wagstaffe, which is representing the plaintiffs in the case. “It's adding insult to injury when those new clubs really aren't that different than the lower-tier clubs in the first place, and you close the lower-tier clubs, forcing these people to upgrade. Our view is that 24 Hour's incentive is to maximize their profits.”

Labar adds that his firm plans to amend the complaint to add additional members to cover other categories and contracts.

A 24 Hour spokesperson says the company does not comment on pending litigation. However, last fall, 24 Hour Chief Marketing Officer Tony Wells was asked about the company's strategy pertaining to the closure of some of 24 Hour's lower-tiered clubs and the opening of 24 Hour Super Sport clubs, particularly in Folsom and Moraga.

“24 Hour Fitness is committed to helping our members reach their fitness goals by providing them with the best possible fitness experience,” Wells replied in an e-mail. “Fulfilling this mission often includes upgrading our facilities in select markets to provide better amenities.”