A Surrey gym has been ordered to pay just under $2,000 by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal for not allowing a man to work out in hiking boots.
Keith Wollenberg filed a complaint against Platinum Athletic Club last spring alleging discrimination because the gym refused to let him wear supportive footwear due to a “tendon disability.”
Wollenberg claimed that in recent years he had suffered increasing discomfort when doing lunges he’d been doing for at least a decade. His physiotherapist recommended he wear hiking-type boots during the exercise so his feet would remain more rigid. Wollenberg said he had began wearing the boots for that exercise in 2009 and would change back to normal gym shoes for the rest of his workout. He said he had worn such boots in other gyms without question.
Within weeks of joining Platinum in March 2011, Wollenberg said he noticed a posted dress code that said “no boots.” He explained his situation to staff and asked if he could be exempted from the rule. Ramon Clarke, who was general manager of the gym at the time, told him his request would not be granted.
Wollenberg then took the matter to the tribunal, alleging discrimination based on physical disability, contrary to the Human Rights Code.
Though a gym representative did not attend the tribunal hearing, its response was that Wollenberg wanted to wear “work boots,” which they argued were not a “medically prescribed necessity” and which violated gym rules requiring proper workout attire.
Tribunal chair Bernd Walter said medical evidence showed Wollenberg does, in fact, have a disability which affects his feet and that Platinum failed to accommodate that disability by refusing his use of adaptive footwear.
“As a result, he was unable to utilize his membership as frequently as he had intended to do, and suffered the inconvenience of having to perform an integral part of his exercise regimen elsewhere,” wrote Walter in his decision. “His use of the gym dropped by half. The value of his membership decreased. He was adversely affected by the gym’s decision to deny his request.”
Walter ordered the gym to pay Wollenberg $400 for his reduced use of Platinum’s facilities, $500 for wages he lost pursuing the complaint and $16 for parking to attend the hearing. Walter also ordered compensation of $1,000 for “injury to his [Wollenberg’s] dignity, feelings and self-respect.”
The complaint was heard on May 3 and the decision was posted online this week.