Lawsuits & Litigation
Former BigLaw Partner’s $ 10 Million Lawsuit Ties Fitness Club’s Racy Marketing With Alleged Fake Obscenity Claim
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A former partner of Hughes Hubbard & Reed has filed a $ 10 million libel suit against a Wall Street health club over an alleged false claim that the lawyer engaged in obscene conduct in the steam room.
Steven Hammond, the former partner, sued Equinox fitness club and employee Michael Alexander, who claimed to have seen Hammond masturbate. The New York Law Journal and the New York Post have a blanket of May 20 trial, filed in New York State court.
Hammond was charged with public obscenity last summer in a case that grabbed local headlines. Hammond’s attorney, Neal Brickman, told the New York Law Journal that prosecutors dropped the case after “credibility issues” emerged.
The lawsuit says Equinox attempted to promote an image of its clubs as places of immoral behavior in a racy marketing campaign that began more than a decade ago. The club’s âhypersexual branding and marketingâ fostered an environment that has led to allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault in âa multitude of lawsuitsâ against Equinox facilities, according to the lawsuit.
One advertising campaign had the slogan “Equinox Made Me Do It”. Several ads featured people “in various stages of undressing, including an image that appears to depict five people lying on a bed indulging in what could only be described as an ‘orgy,'” the costume reads.
In response to a growing wave of allegations of immoral conduct in clubs, Equinox responded with a zero tolerance policy that offered no protection to the rights of its members, according to the lawsuit.
When Alexander made a claim about Hammond in May last year, the club terminated Hammond’s membership without further investigation, according to the lawsuit.
Alexander had previously been threatened with dismissal for not showing up for work, and he “maliciously fabricated his libelous allegation” against Hammond to improve his bargaining position, Hammond alleged.
Two days before Alexander made the false statement, the New York Post had published a story about a lawsuit claiming that Equinox was ignoring âimproper conductâ occurring in its steam rooms. Alexander joined this trial at some point in 2018, according to Hammond’s trial.
After receiving the false allegation, the club decided to “sacrifice not only the complainant’s membership, but a 40-year unblemished professional reputation,” the lawsuit alleges.
Hammond’s lawsuit claims he suffered “immense financial and emotional harm, as well as irreparable public embarrassment” after the allegation against him became public. His lawsuit alleges libel, negligence, breach of contract, negligent hiring and supervision, and inflicts emotional distress on him.
An Equinox spokesperson said the company will defend itself vigorously in court. An attorney for Alexander told the New York Law Journal that the lawsuit was “without merit and simply an attempt to intimidate my client and hijack his own actions.”
Hammond left Hughes Hubbard and moved to Portugal, where he is looking for work as a referee.