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Gym Refuses To Put Agreement in Writing

by Travis Perkins
(Citrus County Florida)

I'll try to keep this as concise as possible but its complicated. I was laid off from a good paying construction project management job in 2009. After over a year of unsuccessfully job hunting, I got certified and got hooked up at a gym at a private club in a retirement community and I would be an independent contractor.

The deal was that I pay the club $5 for every hour I train and do a one hour assessment or orientation, on behalf of the club. For this I was compensated with $9 removed from my training fees that I paid monthly, for each one. I was responsible for signing up my own new clients and at the time the rates were $35 per hour or $300 for a package of ten one hour sessions.

This was all a verbal agreement which was sketchy but I anticipated this being a short term way to put money in my pocket.

It turned out, I was really good at what I was doing and very much enjoyed it. After a year, I was averaging 50-70 hours of training a week which was easily 3x more than the next closest trainer (of 12). The first indication of trouble was when I was called into the directors office. The club had gotten wind of the fact that I had given my clients a free hour of training for new referrals that signed up for ten sessions and that I had some sessions that were a half hour for which I was charging $250 for 10, based on client needs and abilities. I was told that I had to charge the club mandated rates and could not do half hour sessions.

Now, I have been a managing partner in the restaurant industry and a project manager for a major commercial construction company so I knew immediately that this was not legal. I explained that under the agreement we had, the club was my landlord and I was a tenant. The club has control over what they charge me for rent but should not be allowed to determine how I do my training, how long and how much I charge as this is a separate, private agreement between my client and myself and especially since the clients paid me directly. My name is on their check.

I was told that if I didn't comply, I wouldn't be allowed on the premises to train. Under normal circumstances I would have told them to pound sand and continue working until they forced me to leave. Problem was, I had a client list of 40 or so people and thousands of their dollars in my bank account representing incomplete training sessions that were purchased ahead of time. I have retained 70 percent of my clients for over four years. I was also told that if I trained those clients anyplace else but their facility or did any of my own marketing, I would be barred from training on their property. So, I complied.

It is now 5 years later and our training fees have gone up %300 and my hourly income has gone up $7. I have asked each time this happens for a written document detailing the new "agreement" and each time I am denied and told "its better than working at the Y" and that if I continue to question the legality of what is happening I will not be able to use their gym and will need to refund my clients for the unused portion of there sessions.

So, if we are treating this as a landlord/tenant/independent contractor situation I would say that if they bar me from using the gym even if I were paying my "rent" because I want an agreement in writing or I negotiate the duration and rates with my client, it would amount to "tortious interference" as they are creating circumstances which prevent me from honoring my contractual agreement with my clients.

I also think that under the current conditions that the IRS would classify me as an employee and then there may be some precedent for suing for back wages. The club determines my pay rate/training rates, I have to wear a uniform (all black, no colors, no shorts), I have to provide an hour of labor for the club with basically no pay, I cannot do any advertising, I have to work on their premises and they refuse to provide a written document outlining our agreement. The developer of the community has deep pockets, is sued often, and is known to just outspend people in court and they give up even though they could have won their case.

I have searched high and low and cannot find any similar circumstance or legal guidance for this situation anywhere on the internet. I am going to consult an attorney soon to see if I have any legal recourse if I stick to my guns and expose what is happening here. Many of the trainers, massage therapists, and salon techs at this club/spa are in a similar situation but most comply because by the time they realize they are being taken advantage of, they have established a good client base and are afraid to speak up and some are just sheep and OK with being taken advantage of.


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