Continue reading the main story
Between 2018 and 2019, Röbynn Europe, a former professional bodybuilder, worked at an Equinox on the Upper East Side, running personal trainers. Years before, as a scholarship student at Brearley, the girls' school several blocks away where she started seventh grade, traveling first from Canarsie and then Coney Island, she had experienced the coded prejudices of privileged teenagers. There was only one other black student in his class. But that still hadn't prepared her for what she described as rude, unfiltered judgment from male colleagues at an expensive gym, awash in the scent of eucalyptus oil, if not the undertones of enlightenment.
Ms Europa's tenure at the club was short-lived; Equinox terminated his employment in less than a year because, according to the company, he was late 47 times over 10 months. Ms. Europa took a different view of her dismissal, believing that her tardiness was merely a pretext for discrimination, and shortly thereafter she filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan, arguing that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment , and ultimately he let her go. because of her race and gender. Last week, a predominantly white jury of five women and three men agreed, delivering a verdict in just over an hour. The next day, he was awarded $11.25 million in damages.
The speed of the jury's decision and the amount of the payment ($10 million in punitive damages and $1.25 million for the anguish he suffered) follow a similar pattern to the verdict handed down in the same court a few weeks earlier, inE. Jean Carroll Defamation Case Against Donald J. Trump. In both cases, the process and outcome suggest the ways in which recent transformative social movements around race and gender may reshape the way juries think about the long shadow of emotional disturbance that bigotry or discrimination can produce in sexual violence.
Ms. Europa, who had been an art student at Oberlin College, was an unlikely entry into the world of fitness. Returning to New York after graduation, she took a desk job at David Barton's Gym, working to support herself through a tattoo apprenticeship. In 2006, she received her certification as a personal trainer. "Racism and sexism are pervasive in the fitness industry," she said when I met her at her lawyer's office in Brooklyn recently.
“In the coastal cities, training is something you can do without a degree, and you can earn $75 an hour; There aren't many opportunities to do that, so it's a big draw for people of color." But the leadership structure, he noted, is often white and male.
In response to the verdict, Equinox did not engage in the current self-blame craze and vowed to do better. Instead, he issued a statement saying he "strongly disagreed" with the outcome and did not "tolerate discrimination of any kind." In the motion he filed, asking the court to reconsider the case, either through a new trial or a reduction in the verdict, the attorneys argued that jurors, "controlled by sympathy and emotion," had "erroneously accepted the plaintiff's claim. that she had been the victim of racial animosity and "awarded extreme and unimaginable harm" as a result.
The case largely revolved around allegations that a manager who reported to Ms. Europe, a middle-aged white man whom she described as isolated because of his relationship with people above her, refused to accept her as his supervisor. She claimed that he repeatedly expressed his vulgar views about black women's bodies, referred to non-white employees as "lazy" and expressed hope that he might fire them; He called a black colleague "autistic".
In the early spring of 2019, according to the lawsuit, he "demanded" that his boss wait outside the gym with him for a young black woman to come out of a cafe where he worked so he could make advances on her. from the theory that he would be better off with a black person standing next to him. Ms. Europa, according to the complaint, "refused to be a breeder."
The accumulation of these incidents, he testified, made his time at Equinox so stressful that the bulimia he struggled with for most of his life worsened. While she was working there, Mrs. Europe told me, her condition was so bad that she began to vomit several times a day and began to throw up blood; she eventually had to enter an eating disorder treatment program. Her lawyers, all women at Crumiller, which describes itself as "a feminist litigation firm", argued that their clients' complaints to male bosses were overheard.
On the witness stand, Ms Europa spoke of an incident that had left her feeling particularly defeated. One afternoon in June 2019, she was in her office when she received a call from someone who deals directly with members, a woman who was speaking with a client who had specifically requested a white trainer. Ms Europe explained that a request like that exposed the company to liability and had to be handled by a supervisor, who she assumed would tell the customer that what they were asking for was inappropriate.
She said how upset she had been by her colleague's willingness to pass off "the request as if it was just good customer service to fulfill it." When she told her boss, he went ahead and let the client get a white trainer anyway.
Although she was reprimanded in writing by a supervisor a week later and, according to an Equinox spokesperson, fired a year after that, Ms Europa received another disciplinary warning for tardiness on the same day she wrote an email raising the issue up to the attention of managers and people in human resources. Three months later, she was fired.
Ms Europe never denied that she was often late for work, but her lawyers had presented the jury with a chart indicating how many other people also failed to turn up on time, albeit with relatively little consequence.
In their motion to reconsider the case, Equinox's lawyers did not deny that racial and sexual comments by their subordinates had occurred, but argued that they were too few to support allegations of a hostile workplace. Beyond that, they believed that the emotional distress Mrs. Europa suffered because of her time at the gym was not "cruel" (a legal term) enough to justify the amount the jury recommended.
The question of how much pain is worth in money remains an endlessly tense and divisive issue. Judges can, and often do, overturn decisions made by juries in these types of civil cases. Some lawmakers in New York state, for example, believe the privilege should be limited, arguing that these reversals can appear arbitrary. But juries' conclusions can also seem inscrutable.
And yet sometimes a remarkable harmony emerges. In November, a federal jury in Texas handed down$366 million to a black seller who had sued FedExfor discrimination in a case that was believed to yield the largest verdict in a lawsuit involving racial bias and employment. Three months later, a federal judge rejected the company's offer to cancel or reduce the price.
Ginia Bellafante has worked as a reporter, critic and since 2011 asmetropolitan columnist. She began her career at The Times as a fashion critic and has also been a TV commentator. He previously worked at Time magazine. @GiniaNYT
A version of this article appears on tap, Section
from the New York edition
with the headline:
Jurors weigh the emotional costs of bias.request reprint|today paper|Subscribe
Continue reading the main story