Great Britain

SoulCycle: Even more employees speak out about toxic culture

Even more current and former employees are speaking out against fitness brand SoulCycle, alleging that top instructors were allowed to get away with toxic behaviours like abusing staff, sexual harassment, and racial and anti-gay discrimination.

The accusations, reported by Business Insider, follow a bombshell report from the publication last week that the company didn’t take meaningful action even though top employees, who blurred the line between fitness instructors and celebrity influencers, fat-shamed staff, were accused of sending nude photos to clients, and using homophobic and racial slurs.

“At SoulCycle, our priority has always been to build a community centred on our core values of diversity, inclusion, acceptance and love,” the brand told Insider. “When we receive complaints or allegations related to behaviour within our community that does not align with our values, we take those very seriously and both investigate and address them. We are committed to continuing to make improvements and ensuring that we live up to the values that our teams and riders expect of us.”

The report paints a picture of how star employees at the spin bike chain allegedly used their status to get away with a host of aggressive behaviour that doesn’t match up with the brand’s inclusive image.

Black employees said they weren’t given career advancement opportunities and faced numerous micro-aggressions, including one woman who was reportedly told to “fix” her hair when she wore it in a curly natural style, rather than pulling it back into a bun. Another employee, who was gay, was allegedly told he was only “marketable” in the Castro, San Francisco’s famous gay neighbourhood.  

Other instructors are accused of sexual harassment and body shaming.

Conor Kelly allegedly slapped people’s bottoms and made inappropriate remarks to employees at one of the brand’s New York City studios, so much so employees would try to avoid working the same day he was in the building. The company allegedly ignored reports about his alleged actions because he brought in substantial revenue.

One staffer said Mr Kelly had sex with her at a family home in Connecticut, then threw her in the shower and called her “f****** filthy,” before making her walk home alone to a train station at midnight.

Akin Akman, another top employee who formerly worked for SoulCycle, allegedly shamed a front desk worker on his Instagram story for eating pizza.

But that wasn’t all. Instructors like Laurie Cole and Stacey Griffith are accused of histrionic Hollywood-style antics. Ms Cole allegedly threw a bowl of fruit across the room when an employee got her breakfast wrong and accidentally had kiwis in a berry bowl, while Ms Griffith allegedly threw her microphone at employees when it wasn’t working and had staff pick up her groceries and dry cleaning.

The Independent has asked SoulCycle, Mr Kelly, Mr Akman, Ms Cole and Ms Griffith for comment. 

But its rise hasn’t been without controversy. Customers and celebrities alike boycotted the brand after news that in 2019, Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of both SoulCycle and high-end fitness brand Equinox, hosted a fundraiser for Donald Trump.

In 2018, a lawsuit accused Equinox of a similarly permissive culture that put people at risk. A member filed a suit in New York alleging that a studio wouldn’t act on allegations that he’d nearly been raped in an Equinox studio and that “Equinox employees have known for years that their ‘members were engaging in orgies, indecent exposure, masturbation, sexual assault, sexual harassment and lewd behaviour in the men’s steam rooms’”.

The allegations are the latest blowup for a brand founded on a sleek, progressive image. The Wing, a high-end co-working space for women that emphasised female empowerment, was accused earlier this year of mistreating staff, especially its employees of colour. 

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