In front of 30 people, directly into the microphone for all to hear, the instructor looked him straight in the eyes and called him “stupid.” Twice. Just then the gentle giant, exhausted after a heavy workout, got a sudden burst of adrenaline. He stood up slowly and walked over to the man. No, Ketan wasn’t about to let this slide – not this time. He needed to teach the instructor a lesson of his own. But grabbing the guy wasn’t going to cut it. He had a much better idea. By the time Ketan was done with him, this genius would have the whole organization groveling at his feet.
Like most, Ketan enjoys going to pubs with his friends and spending time with his family. He is also a big comic book and Marvel movie fan. But there is one thing that gives Ketan’s life meaning more than anything else: fitness. As a truly stand-up guy, Ketan does his best to avoid unnecessary conflict. Unfortunately, he found himself in such a situation in a place he loves the most, the gym.
Ketan thinks of himself as a “fitness enthusiast,” and we’d say he definitely fits the bill. “I spin, swim, box, rock climb and do aerial silks,” he says. “I couldn’t ever just work, go home, eat, drink and go to sleep.” So, naturally, going to the gym is a big part of his life and daily routine. Unfortunately, two years ago, there was an incident at his gym that left him feeling humiliated and unwelcome.
Ketan describes himself as a bit “socially awkward” and “more into numbers” than anything else, with confrontations being one of his downfalls. Although Ketan has taught himself to walk away in stressful situations, he found that this experience he had at the gym left him reverting back to his old ways. And that is something he desperately wanted to avoid – at all costs.
Ketan had decided that day to switch things up from his normal routine and participate in a spin class. Considering London’s Virgin Active gym was practically his second home, he often liked to join group classes to keep things interesting for himself. But just as the class got underway and the music started blaring, a female classmate made an off-hand remark just within earshot of the instructor – one that sent him into an uncontrollable rage.
The woman exasperatedly let out a complaint that the music was not upbeat or motivating enough. To which the instructor overheard. Becoming very defensive, the spinning instructor shouted at them, “Don’t tell me how to do my job.” Although the remark was not even made by Ketan, he started to feel uncomfortable. The instructor made a point of singling Ketan out in front of the entire class.
During the class, the instructor bellowed over the microphone that Ketan’s “opinion was bollocks,” making a huge scene for such a small comment. Regardless, Ketan mentions that he merely agreed with the woman and did not make any snide comments. Due to his fear of confrontation, Ketan felt overwhelmed and was silenced by fear. At the end of the class, the instructor could not let go of his ego.
In front of 30 people, the instructor called Ketan “stupid” twice, over the microphone. Although Ketan didn’t say anything he felt completely horrible. Ketan knew that this instructor crossed the line, and although he could not voice it, the situation he was put into, was not okay. Despite Ketan’s quiet nature, this was not something that he would just let slide and that instructor would soon learn to regret his outburst.
The staff at the Virgin Active were aware of Ketan’s autism. However, he felt that instead of helping him, this knowledge was used against him by the instructor. After this particular incident, he filed a complaint with the gym and waited six weeks to hear back from them. “Calling someone with a mental disability ‘stupid’ is similar to mocking a guy in a wheelchair,” Ketan said. Which is what makes the situation completely unacceptable. So, he came up with his own plan.
After six weeks of silence, Ketan was told no action was being taken against the worker, so he submitted a legal claim. But here’s the kicker — once Virgin Active received his legal paperwork, they conveniently decided to dismiss the instructor and offered Ketan compensation that would pretty much only cover a nice dinner. That wasn’t going to cut it. So what did Ketan do? Something NOBODY expected.
He wasn’t a lawyer, but he decided to take on the corporation and their highly-paid lawyers by representing himself in court. He borrowed books from the library, sourced online articles on discrimination, and consulted previous cases. In what was a two year preparation, toward his day in court. “I’m not a legal professional and I had to do a huge amount of paperwork,” he said. “I had to live in the library, picking up law from the books, and getting templates for submitting paperwork from the Internet.” But was it worth it?
The court agreed with him! Virgin was ordered to pay him a fair amount of money and issue a formal apology, which they did. “If I was that stupid I wouldn’t have been able to successfully pursue the claim against a solicitor of a billion pound company,” Ketan said. “It was two years coming and it was hard work. When someone discriminates against 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. It wasn’t about the money, it was about the principal.” Amazing! However, he was not the only one who spent time in court due to being discriminated against, for autism, in a very public setting.
Like many other young boys, 11-year-old Ben Gleeson wanted to join the Cub Scouts. Some tenants of the Scout Law are to be trustworthy, loyal, kind, friendly, obedient, brave, helpful and loyal. With a motto of “Do your best!” you would think that they would be open and willing to allow any young boy to join their ranks. But when Gleeson joined a group in Hertfordshire, he was told he couldn’t go to camps or take part in athletics without supervision. Why?
His family claims that the discrimination is plain and simple. It is because Gleeson is autistic. According to the BBC, Gleeson had previously been a member of ‘The Beavers’, and his parents said they explained his autism to the scout leaders and suggested strategies to help calm and distract him, should he get upset. And since anxiety was a big part of his autism, he could become distressed if something unpredictable happened. Well, something did happen, which is what caused this whole issue.
Apparently Ben, in a panic, tried to run a short distance from the rest of the group after he was asked to change into a pair of shoes he could not find. Later, he said he did not want to join an egg-and-spoon race because of a phobia of spoons. This lead to the pack leaders saying Gleeson couldn’t travel with the group and that he had to have one-to-one supervision at other events for “the safety of the whole pack.” His parents — both lawyers — weren’t having it.
“I felt he didn’t need it,” his mother said. “He didn’t have this level of supervision at school. He’d made one mistake and then that was it, they wanted to make the rules and regulations. It was supposed to be a dialogue.” Instead they ended up having to pay out more than $50,000 in damages after the family sued under the Equality Act. The Gleesons have donated some of the money to a local autism charity, while Ben’s portion is being held in a trust. But that’s not all.
The Scout Association went on to apologize and said they’re going to change their policies and educate staff on treating every child with the respect that they deserve. And as we saw with Aggarwal, the policies of Virgin Active were also being reviewed and updated to ensure that discrimination doesn’t happen again — or that at the very least, people become more educated. Both of these brilliant people prove that if you see something wrong, don’t just sit down and accept it. As Aggarwal said, “It really is about the principle.”