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Germany: Fitness studio fined for discriminating against African

A District Court (Landgericht) in the western city of Aachen has ordered the operator of a fitness studio chain to pay a compensation of 2,500 euros to an African as damages for discriminating against him. The man had been repeatedly refused membership in a fitness studio in Aachen owned by EasyFit in a way the court found to have contravened the country’s General Equal Treatment Act (das Allgemeine Gleichbehandlungsgesetzes or AGG).

Since December 2014, the African, Mr M., (who would not liked to be named in media reports) has repeatedly tried to become a member of the fitness studio in Aachen. At first, he was denied a contract because of a supposed membership stop for men; later he could only have become a member if he paid the membership fees for one full year in advance, which does not correspond to the usual contract conditions.

The court found the conditions of membership offered to the African to constitute a discriminatory business policy of Mr H., the operator of the fitness studio. He defended his studio’s treatment of the African with the excuse that he had in the past suffered a considerable loss of income due to non-paying customers, including many male migrants, and he was therefore forced to provide his staff with a list of criteria for the selection of members. He profusely rejected the accusation of racism, because, according to the entrepreneur, not a few members in his studios have a migration background.

However, H. has been repeatedly fined to the tune of 500 and 1,000 euros in the past for his discriminatory business practices. The Aachen District Court therefore justified the significantly higher compensation awarded the African because of the “highly reprehensible attitude” of the fitness studio owner. In determining the amount of damages, the court took into account that H. “directly and deliberately” discriminated against the African.

The case was pursued on behalf of the African by Isabel Teller, a lawyer, mediator and consultant at the Equal Opportunities Office (Gleichbehandlungsbüro) of the Pedagogical Centre in Aachen, and the legal aid foundation “Life without Racism”.

The phenomenon of discriminatory business practices by fitness studios is not limited to Aachen, but is a problem that is common in Germany, says Ms Teller, who welcomed the verdict.

The African plaintiff said his objective in pursuing the case is “to move the other side to change its business policy” and to send a warning to other health club operators in the country. He donated the compensation sum to the foundation “Life without Racism”.

The foundation thanked Mr M. for the donation, describing his gesture as an important support for the continuation of its work against discrimination in society.

Femi Awoniyi

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