A posh Los Angeles fitness center kicked a black pastor out and banned him for life because, the pastor says, a white employee overheard him expressing support for President Donald Trump.
The employee allegedly charged at the pastor, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, in a physically threatening manner — coming within inches of his face — and yelled “You support Donald Trump!”
Peterson, 68, is now asking for an apology and seeking civil rights damages.
The incident occurred on August 11 at Equinox Sports Club Los Angeles.
The pastor’s no-good, very bad day began while he was discussing racial issues and defending Trump on his mobile phone during a live broadcast of the Bill Cunningham radio show.
Peterson chose to conduct the radio interview in a room described as a utility closet on the first floor of the Equinox facility — near the lobby area. (The actual gym equipment is upstairs.)
“He had been making semi-frequent radio appearances by phone from that gym for six years,” Anthony Kohrs, an attorney representing Peterson, told The Daily Caller. “He finds a spot where there isn’t a lot of background noise. He never had a problem. He’s even been given permission by employees to use their offices.”
On this particular day, an employee whom Peterson says he had never seen overheard Peterson on the phone and summoned a colleague.
The second employee, who identified himself to Peterson as “Scott,” allegedly demanded that Peterson leave the gym and told him that his membership was terminated effective immediately.
Peterson asked for an explanation but, he says, “Scott” would not provide one.
“Scott” — who reportedly described himself as an Equinox manager — refused to allow Peterson to speak to anyone else.
According to Peterson’s version of events, Peterson responded by saying he did not understand why he was being asked to leave or why his his membership was being revoked.
The confrontation grew increasingly tense.
“Scott” eventually charged at Peterson and got right in his face, according to Kohrs, the attorney.
“After the guy charged at him, he says he said ‘get out of my face,'” Kohrs said.
Peterson’s “get out of my face” statement was also laden with a choice expletive.
At that point, “Scott” allegedly yelled, “You support Donald Trump!”
Eventually, after more back and forth, Peterson decided he had no choice but to leave the Equinox gym.
Peterson said “Scott” followed him as he went to the locker room to obtain his backpack. “Scott” continued to criticize the 68-year-old pastor and, according to the black pastor, repeatedly threatened to call the police.
After leaving, Peterson called the Equinox gym to confirm that his membership was, in fact, revoked.
“The only cited reason” was “his political views and support for the current President of the United States, Donald J. Trump,” Kohrs said.
Kohrs told TheDC that he believes Equinox violated Peterson’s civil rights.
“Nothing I can think of that he could be accused of would warrant violence or a lifetime ban,” the attorney said.
“Even if Jesse was screaming, that’s not a reason to assault him. He says he was standing there on the phone.”
(Under civil law, assault means creating a reasonable apprehension of an imminent physical attack.)
Kohrs indicated that Peterson is not interested in having his gym membership restored.
“He doesn’t want his membership back. He feels humiliated. He’s very troubled that his civil rights were violated. He doesn’t want this to happen to other people.”
In an Oct. 19 letter to Jeff Peters, the general manager of Equinox Sports Club Los Angeles, Korhs lays out the civil rights lawsuit.
“Rev. Peterson’s support for President Donald Trump triggered multiple violations of Rev. Peterson’s civil rights,” the letter reads.
The letter from Kohrs cites a handful of California laws including the Bane Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act for the proposition that business establishments cannot discriminate “on the basis of political affiliation in particular.”
Kohrs also asks Equinox to make a very large donation to Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), a Christian nonprofit group started by Rev. Peterson which promotes responsibility and racial equality.
“Rev. Peterson hereby demands a $200,000 donation to BOND, the immediate termination of ‘Scott’ (who shockingly remains employed by Equinox) and a written apology,” Kohrs writes in the letter.
“More important to Rev. Peterson than a settlement is exposing Equinox’s intolerance and bigotry,” Kohrs told TheDC.
“In the United States of America, we do not discriminate against our citizens because of their political views or affiliations,” Kohrs wrote in the letter to Equinox. “Equinox’s discrimination and the conduct of its employees is shocking and reprehensible.”
Peterson said he was — and remains — mortified by the incident.
“I grew up under Jim Crow laws,” he told TheDC. “I have never been treated that way in my life.”
Equinox, the company, describes itself as “a temple of well-being featuring world-class personal trainers.”
The Daily Caller contacted Jeff Peters, the Equinox general manager. He did not respond.
Chris Martinelli, the head of global communications at Equinox, also did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.