SoulCycle Instructors Accused Of Calling Customer 'Aunt Jemima', Bodyshaming And Sexual Abuse
A new report has uncovered that SoulCycle clients made complaints against high-performing instructors that have been swept under the rug since 2014.
November 20, 2020 at 4:17 pm
Several people have come forward with complaints against employees of popular cycling company SoulCycle and have alleged that some top-performing instructors made racist and homophobic comments while others had sexual relations with clients.
An eye-opening investigation from Business Insider specifically names four instructors in the acts of misconduct and states that the inappropriate behavior of SoulCycle employees goes back to 2014.
The New York Post reports that these complaints had been swept under the for years by the spin cycle studio chain in efforts to retain highly productive staff called “master instructors,” who were important to SoulCycle’s financial health and imperative to building the company’s cult-like following.
“SoulCycle kind of turned the cheek on a lot of stuff as long as they were making money,” said Jennifer Brody, a Black woman who once worked as a studio manager at a California location.
Brody recalled that a master instructor named Conor Kelly made a racist comment toward her in the summer of 2014. Following a session in his class, Brody said she changed into different clothes and wore a bandana on her head, which prompted the instructor to utter, “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.
The high performing instructor Kelly was also at the center complaints about allegedly having sex with clients while working at a location in Connecticut, according to TheNew York Post.
Numerous people familiar with Kelly said it was well known that he had sexual relations with several of his class participants, including a former high-senior employee who said Kelly told him that 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 ex-employee said.
In 2019, SoulCycle officials transferred Kelly to work at mostly New York City-based studios but the former senior staffer said they overlooked complaints against him because he was “a moneymaker.”
Two years earlier, a separate New York area instructor, Mike Press, was accused of pressuring rider Olivia Atherton into performing oral sex acts on him in September 2017 while in her Manhattan dorm room.
According to The New York Post, Atherton said they were involved in a sporadic relationship when he showed up to her dorm and repeatedly tried to get her to have sex with him before he slid his pants down and said, “You at least owe me this.”
Atherton said she made attempts to complain about Press but was never contacted in return. She called the main office of the company several times but was only successful in gaining a response from SoulCycle after tagging them in a tweet. The company told her to email her complaint, but no one followed up.
“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.”
Laurie Cole, another top-earning SoulCycle instructor, allegedly body-shamed patrons and was accused of inappropriate behavior by both clients and staff. A number of people said Cole would only permit the most attractive and physically fit riders in her front row during classes.
In an incident in 2019, a pregnant woman messaged the spin cycle company about discrimination that she faced in Cole’s class.
Even though the expecting client had reserved the area, a corporate staffer said the instructor moved her from the reservation and said, “[Cole] 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.”
Other staffers said she has body-shamed coworkers for being too curvy.
“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,'” a former assistant studio manager said.
SoulCycle officials released a statement saying that their “priority has always been to build a community centered on our core values of diversity, inclusion, acceptance” and a welcoming environment.
“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.
Co-founders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice established SoulCycle in 2005 to create a fitness alternative. In what the founders refer to as a cardio party, riders are encouraged to come together and work out as a bonded community.
As Blavity previously reported, company owner Stephen Ross faced public backlash last year for announcing that he would be hosting a fundraiser for President Donald Trump. The event would charge those interested $100,000 for a photo op or $250,000 to hear a roundtable discussion.
With criticism from social activists and athletes over Ross’ support of Trump, SoulCycle and Ross-owned Equinox issued a statement distancing themselves from the event and the owner’s endorsement.