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Personal trainers file whistleblower lawsuit against Lifetime Fitness over firings, seek class action status on wage claims

By Jonathan Bilyk | Jul 25, 2014

The operator of a chain of fitness club is being sued by two former personal trainers who claim they were forced to work off the clock without pay and were fired after they pointed out the management's alleged practice of double-billing and continuing to charge clients after they had ended their memberships.

Jared Steger and David Ramsey filed suit July 7 in Cook County Circuit Court against LTF Club Operations Co., which operates Lifetime Fitness, on behalf of themselves and a proposed class.

They claim their former employer "has become one of America's fastest growing fitness chains by deliberately and intentionally underpaying and deceiving its employees in a predatory manner which leads to excessively high turnover rate and widespread dissatisfaction with working conditions."

The suit stems from the firings of the two personal trainers, which occurred on successive days in May 2013. Steger had worked for Lifetime Fitness since August 2011, and Ramsey started in June 2012.

According to the complaint, the stated reason for Steger’s termination was his failure to turn in an “inventory count” on time, and Ramsey was allegedly fired for “discussing a co-worker’s employment status” the following day.

Steger and Ramsey, however, assert management at the Lifetime Fitness club in Warrenville ,where they worked, fired them in retaliation for trying to notify them of the problems stemming from the handling of client payments and memberships.

They contend that their terminations represent a violation of Whistleblower laws that forbid employers from firing workers who refuse to engage in what they believe to be illegal activities. The trainers allege they were pressured to take part in credit fraud and deception.

The suit notes Steger, in April 2013 following repeated attempts to persuade his manager to stop the alleged practice and refund clients’ and former clients’ money, notified Lifetime Fitness management that “multiple clients” had been double-billed and electronic funds transfers had been altered so money could be drafted from clients' credit cards and bank accounts without authorization.

The trainers’ manager’s “behavior of continuously committing fraudulent activities and refusing to refund clients for unrequested services was not only a violation of the law, but also displays inexcusable actions on the part of defendants (Lifetime Fitness) administration,” the complaint states.

In addition to their whistleblower allegations, Steger and Ramsey claim they were each owed more than $80,000 in unpaid back wages, including unpaid regular wages and overtime, for work they performed for Lifetime Fitness.

Specifically, they allege the company has a policy of requiring personal trainers to perform unpaid work before and after supervising workouts with clients, and to meet with clients and management off the clock.

They claim trainers often would work 70 to 90 hours a week, but not be paid for the majority of those hours. Trainers, the suit states, were also pressured by management to not clock in at certain times to avoid “taking pay away from managers” under a draw system.

Further, the trainers allege employee time records were deliberately altered by their manager to ensure their paid hours never exceeded 40 hours, which resulted in them discovering they were no longer eligible for certain benefits.

In their suit, Steger and Ramsey accuse Lifetime Fitness of violating labor and wage laws, as well as the state's Whistleblower statue, and retaliatory discharge.

Because these actions potentially involved other personal trainers who worked for Lifetime Fitness, the trainers are asking the court to let them notify other potential plaintiffs and allow the suit to proceed as a class action.

They also want the court to order Lifetime Fitness to pay “all statutorily-required wages” and award “liquidated damages” and “consequential damages.”

Steger and Ramsey are being represented by Skokie attorney Michael L. Fradin.

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