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Gym should have let man work out in hiking boots, tribunal rules Add to ...

British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal has awarded more than $1,900 to a man whose gym wouldn’t let him work out in hiking boots.

Keith Wollenberg filed his discrimination complaint in April, 2011, shortly after the Platinum Athletic Club told him the boots violated its dress code. Mr. Wollenberg said the gym also told him his membership status would be reviewed.

Mr. Wollenberg suffered a judo injury in 2009 and his physiotherapist recommended he do lunge exercises. Mr. Wollenberg told the tribunal he experiences sharp pain in both feet when he does the exercises in normal gym shoes. As a result, his physiotherapist advised him to wear hiking boots so his feet would get more support.

Mr. Wollenberg, 46, said a gym employee first told him the boots likely wouldn’t be an issue. However, a few days later, a manager said the boots would not be permitted because they violated the dress code.

“The gym failed to accommodate Mr. Wollenberg’s disability by refusing his adaptive footwear request and this detracted from his ability to make full use and enjoyment of the fitness facility of which he paid to be a member,” tribunal chair Bernd Walter wrote in his ruling, issued late last week.

The tribunal chair said the gym’s response to the complaint “makes it clear that Mr. Wollenberg’s footwear request, founded on his disability, was not considered, much less accommodated meaningfully at all.”

Mr. Walter ordered the gym to cease its contravention of the human-rights code and ordered it to pay $1,916. Of that money, $916 was for Mr. Wollenberg’s reduced use of the gym and expenses in pursing the complaint, while $1,000 was for injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect.

The Platinum Athletic Club, based in Surrey, did not participate in the hearing.

In an interview Wednesday, owner Trenton Davies said the gym would apply for a judicial review of the decision. Though Mr. Walter said numerous efforts were made to contact Mr. Davies before the hearing, the gym owner said he was unaware he was supposed to appear in person.

Mr. Davies said he could not understand how this was a human-rights case.

“We’re simply saying he can’t wear a big hiking boot,” he said, adding that Mr. Wollenberg would not consider possible alternatives.

In an interview, Mr. Wollenberg said he’s satisfied with the tribunal’s decision. He remains a member of the gym and said he’s waiting for his contract to expire.

He said he has stopped performing lunge exercises at the Platinum Athletic Club, even though he would only need to put on the boots for that particular exercise.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the process got this far. It’s really a very small thing that I asked for. It wasn’t going to cost the gym any money and didn’t need to cost anybody all of this effort,” he said.

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