The New York City-based fitness company SoulCycle has been hit with a series of allegations by current and former staff, corporate employees and clients who say that some of the top instructors routinely make racist and sexist comments, sleep with clients and fat-shame studio staff, Business Insider first reported.
One studio manager who spoke with Business Insider said, “SoulCycle kind of turned the cheek on a lot of stuff as long as they were making money.” A corporate employee told the outlet, “The more senior you are as an instructor, the more toxic you are.”
Many employees have said that the company was aware of these complaints, including a report of an unwanted sexual encounter, but because of the instructors’ importance to the brand, they were largely swept under the carpet.
SoulCycle, which offers indoor cycling workout classes across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, responded to the allegations in a statement that reads in part: “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.”
An Instructor Named in the Report, Conor Kelly, Is Accused of Making Racist Comments & Sending Nude Photos of Himself to Clients
Brody told Business Insider about her experience with “master instructor” Conor Kelly. Brody, who is a Black woman, was the studio manager at the Palo Alto SoulCycle in California in August 2014 when Kelly came to the studio to teach a class. Brody said she attended his class and when she got changed after the workout, she put a bandana on her head. She said when Kelly saw her he laughed and said, “Whoa, Aunt Jemima!”
Brody told the outlet, “That he felt OK calling me ‘Aunt Jemima’ in the middle of a studio lobby in Palo Alto was disgusting.” However, she said she only told a couple of colleagues but didn’t report the incident because she said “there wasn’t anyone who would have cared.”
Many people who spoke to Business Insider said it was “common knowledge” at the company that Kelly was sleeping with several of his clients. One former employee described by the outlet as “high-ranking” said Kelly had sent nude photos of himself to his riders: “That became problematic because people’s spouses were complaining, and then it caused a lot of infighting with riders as well.”
Laurie Cole, Another Star Instructor, Received Criticism From Staff & Clients Who Say She ‘Fat-Shamed’ Them & Used a Homophobic Slur
Laurie Cole, another master instructor considered to be a “moneymaker” at SoulCycle, was accused of inappropriate behavior from clients and staff alike, Business Insider shared. Many said Cole was vocal about wanting only the most attractive and physically fit riders in her front row during classes. In one instance from 2019, a pregnant client emailed SoulCycle about discrimination that she faced in Cole’s class, according to two sources with the company.
Despite the client having reserved the front-row bike at the studio in the Hamptons, a corporate staffer 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.” Some studio managers on the East Coast also came forward to say that Cole had “fat-shamed” some studio employees.
“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,'” one former assistant studio manager reported.
In another incident, an assistant manager was speaking to Cole about a new studio and the instructor responded using homophobic language. The assistant manager told Business Insider that they spoke about the manager for the new studio, who is gay, and Cole said, “Well, they better not hire a bunch of twinks to work there.” The assistant manager said she reported Cole but does not believe anything was done about her complaint.
Other Top Instructors Were Also Accused of Impropriety in the Report, Including 1 Who Called Some Riders ‘Little Sluts’
The report from Business Insider also included several allegations against other master instructors, including Janet Fitzgerald, SoulCycle’s senior training officer, who would sometimes call the riders “little sluts,” sources told the outlet. She also made strange and frequent sexual comments during training, one senior instructor recalled:
She would say things like ‘Do you want to get f*****?’ And the girl or boy would be like, ‘Uh, what?’ And then she’d be like, ‘You’re never getting f***** if you look like that. Let your hair down. Put some lipstick on or something.
Mantas Zvinas, a London-based instructor, was also accused of impropriety, Business Insider wrote. According to a front-desk staffer, Zvinas would get personal information about his riders from studio staff so he could reach out to them on Instagram. Mike Press, a master instructor teaching on the East Coast, was accused by one SoulCycle client, Olivia Atherton, of pressuring her into performing oral sex on him in September 2017.
She said the incident occurred when the two were in an off-and-on relationship, which started when the 31-year-old Press reached out to the 20-year-old Atherton on Instagram after she attended his class. None of the instructors named in the Business Insider report have commented on the allegations.