Former Peloton instructor Daniel McKenna’s wrongful termination lawsuit contains several claims we’d expect to see in an employment action:
He says he was fired with no explanation.He claims he was retaliated against for taking medical leave.He argues the company forced him to get a COVID vaccine.
But McKenna’s complaint for $1.8 million includes another allegation we haven’t seen since about the mid-1800s: He says one company exec exhibited hostility toward him for being Irish.
When Irish Eyes Aren’t Smiling
The complaint, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, says that Peloton’s chief content officer, Jennifer Cotter, singled out McKenna on staff Zoom calls, repeatedly asking him if he was drunk at work. Cotter also allegedly ridiculed McKenna based on his Irish accent, saying, “Nobody understands what you are saying, Daniel.”
McKenna says Cotter’s jokes about him continued, including at one staff meeting where she greeted him with, “I hope you are not drunk, Daniel.” That was also McKenna’s first meeting with Peloton’s new CEO, Barry McCarthy. According to the complaint, Cotter introduced McKenna to McCarthy as “our Irish instructor – he’s rough around the edges and hard to understand but the members love him.”
When McKenna confronted Cotter about alcohol-related Irish stereotypes, she reportedly said she was “mostly joking” and made no apology.
McKenna argues that many Peloton instructors noticed Cotter’s disparaging remarks but were afraid of her because she had the power to take away classes and advertising spots.
But it seems inappropriate jokes were just the tip of the iceberg.
Concerning Comments Regarding Injuries
In April 2022, McKenna had to undergo surgery to repair torn muscles in his chest and requested leave from Peloton. Although he recovered in half the time his doctors predicted, he says Cotter told him he should be fired because disability leave is unacceptable in “corporate America.”
If true, this is a ridiculous statement by Cotter since laws like the Family Medical Leave Act require employers to allow medical leave for employees.
In September, Peloton informed McKenna he was being terminated “for cause,” but did not provide supporting documentation when McKenna requested it. Meanwhile, Peloton’s employment agreement states that “no Cause shall exist unless the Company has provided written notice to you describing in detail such Cause conduct.”
McKenna argues that Peloton discriminated and retaliated against him because he requested accommodation for his injury, which likely violates New York’s Human Rights Law. It’s possible he’ll be able to convince a jury that comments about his Irish heritage created a hostile work environment — but it’s more likely his success in this case will be due to the company’s treatment of his medical leave.
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