A disabled man from Harrogate has won a landmark settlement against one of the UK’s largest gym chains after he was allegedly discriminated against when trying to renew his membership at his local health and fitness centre.
In the settlement, secured by Yorkshire law firm Truth Legal, against Nuffield Health which has 114 gyms across the UK, Nuffield Health have agreed to establish an independent committee including medical experts, which will allow people with disabilities to apply to pay reduced fees for gym membership and submit medical evidence of their disability, across their sites. This is because their disabilities and health conditions prevent them from accessing all the equipment and facilities.
The settlement has been welcomed by paralympic athlete, author and sporting ambassador Anne Wafule Strike MBE.
Lawyer Andrew Gray, the original founder of Truth Legal and still a consultant with the firm, was previously twice a member at Nuffield Health in Harrogate. He enjoyed an active lifestyle including marathon running, playing football competitively and various other sporting activities until April 2021 when he experienced a rapid decline in his health. Side effects attributed to treatment following a prescribed course of the antibiotic fluoroquinolone, led to Mr Gray developing chronic fatigue, fainting episodes and numerous other symptoms due to heart, blood pressure and prostate problems.
Now disabled, Andrew was unable to pursue his sporting passions and no longer physically capable of using gym equipment at the Nuffield or able to attend any scheduled exercise classes, despite having previously been a loyal, fully paid-up member with unlimited access.
Andrew was also keen to use the swimming pool and sauna and jacuzzi to help relieve muscle and joint pain resulting from his condition.
After contacting his former gym, Nuffield Health in Harrogate in February 2022 to find out about resuming his gym membership as a disabled person, Andrew inquired about a reduced membership fee as he would be unable to make use of all the facilities, as he had previously done. He was told that no adjustments in the membership pricing structure for disabled people were available. This was despite concessions being in place for local pensioners who can use all the facilities at a reduced membership rate.
Andrew argued that as his health condition varies unpredictably, sometimes he would not be well enough to use the pool and jacuzzi despite his desire to do so for the benefits it would afford him, further justifying his request for a reasonably lowered membership fee.
Acting on behalf of Andrew, Katherine Swinn, a senior associate solicitor at Truth Legal also based in Harrogate, issued a disability discrimination claim for breach of the 2010 Equality Act. The outcome saw Nuffield agreeing to settle the claim, establishing an independent committee, comprising a team of medical experts to look at all future memberships for disabled members. Moving forward, people with disabilities will be able to apply for reduced membership rates after submitting medical evidence of their disability. The committee will consider applications on a case by case basis.
Lawyer Katherine Swinn added: “This is a very positive outcome for Andrew and for disabled people in general, who have been unfairly discriminated against purely for wanting to go to the gym and only pay for the equipment and facilities that they are physically capable of using. As this was already in place for pensioners using this particular gym, there was no fair or reasonable explanation why a similar reduced fee membership policy didn’t exist for people with disabilities who also wanted to attend.
“It is completely pointless to have legislation in place such as the Equality Act 2010 if nobody really uses it outside of the workplace. It is applicable to services, as well as employment.
“We are fully supportive of Nuffield’s decision to provide people with disabilities with an opportunity to apply for a reduced fee and hopefully this will establish a fair precedent for other similar leisure facilities to introduce policies that will include rather than exclude disabled members.”
Andrew has welcomed the settlement, which is thought to be the first policy of its kind to be introduced in the UK, and he believes it will be of significant benefit to people with disabilities who wish to visit their local gym without paying full fees for equipment and facilities that they cannot use. He also hopes that other gyms and leisure centres will follow Nuffield Health’s lead by implementing similar inclusive membership policies.
He commented: “All I wanted to do was to enhance my chance to get well again. Many disabled people would benefit from fairer access to such facilities. People with chronic conditions are put off joining such places because of the unfair pricing.
“My hope is that other gym chains follow suit. If they did, they would be opening themselves up to many with disabilities who are put off by the unfair pricing policies. And use of gym facilities could help hundreds of thousands of people to improve their health.”
No timeframe for introducing the new policy has yet been confirmed.