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Man with autism branded 'stupid' by gym staff represents himself in discrimination case and wins

He taught himself the law with the help of library books and online resources over two years and represented himself in court.

Man with autism branded 'stupid' by gym staff represents himself in discrimination case and wins
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/BrianAJackson

Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 31, 2021. It has since been updated.

A man in London took matters into his own hands — legally — after he was branded "stupid" by a spin class instructor at his local Virgin Active gym. Ketan Aggarwal, a 34-year-old who was diagnosed with autism as an adult, made sure no one would dare to ridicule him in such a manner again by teaching himself law and single-handedly winning a disability discrimination case against the gym. According to Daily Mail, Aggarwal's win was the result of nearly two years of hard work as he learned enough law to represent himself in court with the help of library books and online resources.


The distressing incident reportedly occurred in May 2015 during a class at Virgin Active Stockley Park, where Aggarwal was a member. The fitness fanatic revealed that the spin class instructor lashed out at him and yelled "don't tell me how to do my job" when he agreed with a fellow cyclist who found the music "unmotivating" and too slow. "He started shouting across the room and told me my 'opinion was bollocks' in the middle of the class," Aggarwal recalled. "I stayed quiet but it made me feel horrible. He singled me out even though I only agreed with someone else. I believe this is because of my autism."


Legal documents related to Aggarwal's case against the gym reportedly state that the instructor's tirade continued even when the class finished, calling him "stupid" through the microphone in front of 30 people twice. "The claimant asked the instructor to stop and was called 'stupid' down the microphone in front of approximately 30 people twice," the particular of claims document states. "Claimant believes this is disability-related harassment as [the instructor] was aware of the previous incident [where Mr. Aggarwal told staff he had autism]..."


Although Aggarwal complained to Virgin Active about the staff member's unacceptable behavior towards him, he was informed six weeks later that no action would be taken against the instructor. It was only when he submitted a legal claim against them that the multi-million-pound company dismissed the instructor and offered Aggarwal £94 (approximately $133) in compensation. He rejected the offer and counter-offered to settle out of court for £1,000 (approximately $1418) after a judge in the case warned in a preliminary hearing that if Aggarwal were to win the case, it would "open other gyms to legal actions."


Virgin Active turned down the offer, and the case went to The County Court at Uxbridge in 2017. Representing himself against the company's lawyers, Aggarwal single-handedly argued and proved to the court that he had been the victim of disability harassment. The court agreed with him and ordered Virgin Active to pay him £1,200 ($ 1,702) — plus costs of £190 ($ 269) — and give him a written apology. "It is ordered that the defendant do consider amending its equality training to staff and consultants and do consider amending its joining application form so non-physical conditions are included," the judge presiding over the case added.


"It felt amazing to win," said Aggarwal. "When someone discriminates someone with a mental disability, they don't think they are going to pick up law, submit a legal claim, and then successfully argue it in a court of law... [The instructor] called me stupid twice. Calling someone with a mental disability 'stupid' is similar to mocking a guy in a wheelchair. If I was that stupid I wouldn't have been able to successfully pursue the claim against a solicitor of a billion-pound company. It was two years coming and it was hard work. I'm not a legal professional and I had to do a huge amount of paperwork."


"I had to live in the library, picking up law from the books, and getting templates for submitting paperwork from the internet," Aggarwal continued. "It was worth it though. It wasn't about the money, it was about the principal." In a statement about the incident, a Virgin Active spokesperson said: "We believe in offering a welcoming, inclusive and friendly environment for our members. We are very sorry that on this occasion we failed to do that, and are committed to reviewing our ongoing training to ensure the experience for all members is of the highest quality."

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