A Louisiana woman said she was thrilled after being hired on the spot for a sales position at health club LA Fitness. Her five-month stint at the gym turned sour, however, after she said she received a racially insensitive text from her supervisor about her hair.
Aireial Mack, 26, is now suing the gym for racial discrimination, claiming she was denied the opportunity to work because her hair did not “meet LA Fitness standards in a fro,” local station WWL-TV reported. Mack said she was subsequently fired.
“I walked in confident and I left out a whole other way,” she told the station. “I left out broken.”
Mack was just one of two African-Americans employed at the gym in Slidell, working under general manager Mark Mayeux and assistant general manager Blake Mata, who are both white. Mack said she had only been working at the gym for a little while when she noticed Mata’s casual use of the N-word.
She recalled one instance where “They had this [Black] guy who works out a lot, and Blake was into fitness. The guy passed by and [Blake] went that n—-r is big.”
Mack said she was “outraged and offended” by her supervisor’s language but soon realized it was something that had been normalized by the general manager and LA Fitness staff. She said she recorded at least three conversations where Mata used the racial slur.
This isn’t the first time the fitness chain has been accused of discrimination. Earlier this year, two Black New Jersey men saw the cops called on them after LA Fitness employees accused them of using the gym without paying. Those employees were later fired.
“He started asking me really unintelligent questions that I found to be ignorant like how do Black people have highlights in their hair?” Mack added. “He used to touch my hair and be like, ‘Is this a weave?’ ” she said.
Mack finally decided she’d had enough and took her complaints to Mayeux, Mata’s boss, the station reported. Her grievances fell on deaf ears, however, and Mack said that Mayeux told her his boss, the regional vice president, instructed him to place a job ad online to replace her.
Mack said things worsened after word of her complaints against Mata spread among her co-workers.
“[Blake] knew I had an issue with him using the “n” word, it got around to everyone else, so I was very uncomfortable because now my peers, who are a different race from me, knew that I’m being targeted due to race, so no one wanted to talk to me after that,” she said.
The next day on her lunch break, Mack said she received a text from Mata that absolutely “broke her.”
“Hey, this is Blake. Just doing a follow up with you. We took you off the schedule because your hair doesn’t meet LA FITNESS STANDARDS in a fro,” the text read. “We want a classy appearance we don’t want to leak off a n—-r style.don’t take it the wrong way, just change it, talk to me in person if you need to.”
Mack said she immediately returned to the gym and confronted Mayeux with Mata’s text. He apologized for it, she said. The text got her so upset, however, Mack said she vomited on herself and left work sick. She would never return to the gym after that.
In March, Mack filed a lawsuit against LA Fitness and parent company Fitness International with the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights (LCHR) and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The company responded to the complaint months later, claiming Mack “constantly called out sick and exhibited a very poor work ethic even when she was present.”
In the end, the LCHR investigation found that Mack may not have been fired because of her race, but said LA Fitness did violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects workers from workplace discrimination.
“I’m truly broken. I’m just not the same,” Mack told WWL-TV. “It’s easy for someone to say, to get another job. But what about doing the right thing.”
According to the station, LA Fitness offered a Mack a $2,000 settlement after the LCHR investigation, which she declined.
Watch more in the clip below.