The complaints against Boston Sports Clubs have now entered the legal arena.
A federal lawsuit was filed Sunday on behalf of four BSC members in Massachusetts, accusing the gym and its parent company, Town Sports International, of “unfair and deceptive” practices for charging monthly fees against the requests of members while closed due to the coronavirus.
“Town Sports’ conduct in this case is a deplorable display of unconscionable corporate avarice,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Boston on behalf of four BSC members in Massachusetts.
As local social distancing rules in response to the virus were enacted last month, the chain — which has 30 locations in Massachusetts — abruptly closed its gyms, laid off its club-level staff, and did not respond to members’ requests to cancel or freeze their accounts in the midst of the pandemic. Then, unlike several other prominent local gym chains, BSC charged members monthly fees last week on April 1.
And while the gym ostensibly provided a last-minute option for individuals to freeze their accounts, several BSC members have since told Boston.com that their requests went unanswered and the gym charged them anyway.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office says they had received more than 600 complaints related to BSC as of Tuesday afternoon.
The new lawsuit says the company’s actions are “a clear-cut violation” of the state’s consumer protection laws, as well as “a rather sinister breach of contract in light of the financial strain felt by many of its members during this challenging and unprecedented time.”
Massachusetts legal statute specifically gives health club members the right to cancel their membership if the gym “substantially changes the operation of the health club or location.” The state law also says the consumers are entitled to refunds and potential damages.
In a demand letter Friday to BSC, Healey wrote that the “indefinite closure” of gyms as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic “unquestionably qualifies as a ‘substantial change.’”
Town Sports CEO Patrick Walsh told WCVB that the company — which has not responded to numerous requests for comment — has no plans to offer refunds to members who were charged for April. Walsh reportedly said that those who froze their accounts after being charged would get an extra month on their membership; however, he did not say how many members successfully froze their accounts amid the lack of public communication.
According to the lawsuit, all four plaintiffs were charged membership fees on April 1. The complaint was on filed on behalf of all other BSC members in Massachusetts who were “forced to pay membership fees after the closing of the BSC location or locations at which those members were entitled to access services.”
The plaintiffs are asking District Court judge Mark L. Wolf to order Town Sports to pay membership refunds, attorneys’ fees, and triple damages under the Massachusetts consumer protection law. They’re also seeking injunctive relief ordering Town Sports to provide “a reasonable method for consumers to cancel or suspend their memberships.”
According to news reports, Healey’s office has been able to get through to BSC and is attempting to negotiate a settlement. Last week, the attorney general ripped the gym’s conduct in the wake of the pandemic.
“Much like many Boston Sports Club members, my team has been trying to get a straight answer from @BSC_Gym about how people can cancel their accounts,” she tweeted. “So far, they have refused to provide one. Maybe it’s because they fired all their employees. This is completely unacceptable.”