Star SoulCycle instructors accused of sex with clients, fat-shaming, racism and more
November 17, 2020
Star instructors at SoulCycle allegedly made racist and homophobic comments on the job, had sex with clients, and fat shamed co-workers, according to a new investigative report.
But the popular spin studio chain allegedly brushed under the rug complaints about their top talent -- who are referred to as "master instructors" -- because they were considered moneymakers and core to the company's cult following, sources told Business Insider.
"SoulCycle kind of turned the cheek on a lot of stuff as long as they were making money," claimed Jennifer Brody, who was a studio manager at California's Palo Alto location.
None of the instructors accused of wrongdoing responded to requests for comment, the outlet reported.
Brody, who is a black woman, recalled an encounter with one of the master instructors, Conor Kelly, in August 2014.
After taking his class, she changed and put a bandana on her head to which Kelly laughed and allegedly said, "Whoa, Aunt Jemima!"
"That he felt OK calling me 'Aunt Jemima' in the middle of a studio lobby in Palo Alto was disgusting," Brody said claimed.
Brody said she told other colleagues about the remark, but ultimately never reported since she believed, "There wasn't anyone who would have cared."
Kelly was also the subject of complaints about allegedly having sex with clients while teaching at the Greenwich, Connecticut, location, the outlet reported.
Several people said it was well known that he was sexually involved with a number of his riders -- and a former high-senior employee said he texted nude photos of himself to clients.
"That became problematic because people's spouses were complaining, and then it caused a lot of infighting with riders as well," the employee said according to the report.
In 2019, the chain switched him to a schedule of mostly New York City-based studios -- but they dismissed the complaints because he was "a moneymaker," the former corporate staffer claimed.
Another New York-based instructor, Mike Press, was accused of pressuring a rider, Olivia Atherton, into performing oral sex on him in September 2017, in her Manhattan dorm room.
Atherton told Business Insider they were involved in an on-again, off-again relationship when he showed up to her dorm and repeatedly pressed attempted to press her to have sex before he took his pants off and said, "You at least owe me this."
Her two friends contacted SoulCycle about his treatment of Atherton, but after one of them received an initial response, they never heard from the company again, the outlet reported.
When Atherton was never contacted, she called headquarters several times and then tagged them in a tweet to which they responded by instructing her to email them, the outlet reported. She reportedly sent emails on Sept. 12 and Oct. 25 that went unanswered.
"I guess it just upset me that they were just going to let it slide," Atherton said. "I'm disappointed that they clearly value their prize instructors over their riders."
SoulCycle insiders said there were numerous complaints about the other instructors over the years -- but the company still gave them star treatment, Insider reported.
New York-based instructor Laurie Cole has been repeatedly reported for her behavior, Insider reported, but the company still shelled out for her exclusive Soho House membership, which runs upwards of $2,400, and paid for a loaned Mercedes Benz for her to drive around the Hamptons.
Last summer, Cole was reportedly accused of discrimination by a pregnant rider when she allegedly forced her to move at a Hamptons class from a reserved front-row bike -- which are typically occupied by the most attractive people in the room, two people told the outlet.
"She was, like, 'Oh no, no, no -- I need you to come sit here,' and put her in the back corner and moved a more fit, attractive person in front," said a former corporate staffer.
The woman sent an email to complain about the incident -- but the staffer said to their knowledge, Cole wasn't disciplined.
Co-workers told the Insider that Cole exhibited problematic behavior towards studio staffers, too.
She allegedly "fat-shamed" workers at the Tribeca location, asking the studio manager on several occasions to remove certain ones from shifts because they weren't fit enough, Insider reported.
"She has taken photos of staffers who were maybe curvy and said, 'This is not on brand for my check-in. I don't want this at the front desk during my classes,'" the former manager told the outlet.
In another incident, Cole reportedly used language that was deemed homophobic in 2017 when discussing the new manager of a Park Slope studio that was set to open.
Referring to the new manager, who was gay, she allegedly told another employee, "Well, they better not hire a bunch of twinks to work there."
The studio's corporate employees were aware of Cole's alleged misconduct and met with them on several occasions, sources told the outlet. She was taken off the schedule temporarily on several occasions, but the alleged behavior continued.
Cole, Kelly and Press didn't immediately respond Tuesday to request for comment.
The spin studio said in a statement that their "priority has always been to build a community centered on our core values of diversity, inclusion, acceptance and love."
"When we receive complaints or allegations related to behavior within our community that does not align to our values, we take those very seriously and both investigate and address them," the company said.
"We are committed to continuing to make improvements and ensuring that we live up to the values that our teams and riders expect of us."
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