Woman alleges she was fired from gym after sex assault by member

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A woman who alleges she was fired for taking leave from a major Canadian gym chain after she was sexually assaulted by a client will have her case heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

The former employee, who has been granted anonymity by the tribunal, argues that her firing amounts to discrimination on the basis of sex and mental disability.

While the circumstances that led to the dismissal are in dispute, both the company and the former employee agree on one thing — the gym client was allowed to continue working out at the facility, even after the alleged assault was reported.

The company is not identified in the July 11, 2017 tribunal decision, which denied its application to dismiss the complaint, but it operates numerous gyms in B.C. and other provinces.

The story told by the alleged victim, called J in tribunal documents, is backed up by her general manager, who described her to the tribunal as a "top-performing employee."

'Shaken, anxious and fearful'

The woman told the tribunal that the unnamed man started making sexual comments about her and touching her inappropriately in early 2016, a few months after she sold him his membership.

That March, she claims he forced his way into her home and attacked her. She returned to work for a few days, but says she spent her hours there in constant fear of running into her alleged assailant.

The decision doesn't say if J complained to police. Her lawyer did not return calls last week. 

Then, he appeared at the gym.

"Shaken, anxious and fearful, J left work and did not return," tribunal member Emily Ohler wrote.

Both J and her general manager agree she informed him about the assault and then asked for permission to take a leave of absence — something she would soon back up with a doctor's note.

But the gym chain's district manager disputes that, claiming J didn't get approval for her leave. Shortly after she returned to work, the district manager asked to meet and discuss what he described as "ongoing performance issues (lateness and absenteeism)," as well as her safety.

During that meeting, he told J that he would only bar her alleged attacker from the gym if she obtained a restraining order against him.

Because she chose not to, and because the gym member "told a different version of events," the man was allowed to keep his membership and no restrictions were placed on his workouts, according to the tribunal decision.

Then the district manager went further, according to J.

She alleges the higher-up then told her, "I have given it a lot of thought and this whole situation with [the alleged attacker] is too messy, so we're going to cut ties. We're going to let you go."  

Woman offered $15,000 to settle complaint

But the gym claims she was let go because of performance problems, and the district manager told the tribunal the decision was only made "after numerous failed attempts to counsel [J] and correct her conduct and performance."

Even so, the gym offered the woman a settlement of $15,000 to drop the complaint, according to tribunal documents. She turned it down.

The company argued that the complaint should be dismissed because J rejected a reasonable offer, but Ohler wrote that if the fired employee is successful in her claim, she may be entitled to a significantly higher award.

None of the allegations in the complaint have been proven before the tribunal.