Employees say sexual harassment, racism rampant at New York Atheletic Club

New York Athletic Club gym facilities (Photo: nyac.org)

New York Athletic Club gym facilities (Photo: nyac.org)

A private New York club with 144 years of elite history studded with Olympic medals has found itself in the midst of accusations of sexual harassment and racism.

The New York Post reported depositions from a current and former employee that paint a picture of wild behavior at the New York Athletic Club over the last few years.

The employees say members and managers made racial jokes and used the n-word without consequences. They also said the club would often declare female employees’ complaints of sexual harassment as “unfounded.”

The depositions are part of a sexual harassment lawsuit by former waitress Keisi Ballenilla against the club. She claims that from 2004 to 2009, she was harassed by her managers, especially one named Nesim Zuberi. The suit also claims that other employees “created a hostile work environment by frequently requiring that [she] engage in sexual acts as a condition of receiving work.”

According to the depositions, her claims may not be far from the truth.

Elvis Lopez, who has worked security at the club since 2005, said in a sworn testimony that Zuberi had a reputation for using his authority to get “favors” from servers.

He also talked about sexual harassment from members, claiming that one member often harassed a female coat-check worker by showing her photos of guys in bikini briefs. Lopez said he told the member to stop.

“I’m a married man. I have a grown daughter. This is really bothering me,” he said.

Lopez also talked about racism at the club, alleging that there is “a lot of discrimination with management toward employees — and club members also, toward employees.”

He described an incident where one club member allegedly called a barback in the club’s lounge the n-word. He accused the member of using the racial slur on more than one occasion.

Lopez said his reports to human resources about these incidents were ignored, and the only time he saw a member kicked out of the club was when he threatened another member.

James Bartley, another employee who worked security from 2006 to 2009, made claims about wild party behavior. He said managers would get drunk during events.

“All the time,” he alleged. “Any big function that goes on there.”

The club has denied any wrongdoing and even sought a confidentiality order for the case, though it was rejected.

“We are pleased that the court rejected the Athletic Club’s attempt to keep this secret,” said Joshua Friedman, Ballenilla’s lawyer. “If there are other victims, this will help them.”

These are not the first reports of unruly behavior at the Central Park South club. Earlier this year, the New York Athletic Club was the site of a large, all-out brawl between male and female members that resulted in multiple arrests.

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