These gym ads were so steamy they helped ruin a Manhattan lawyer’s reputation, a new lawsuit claims.
Steven Hammond, a former partner at the firm Hughes, Hubbard and Reed, says in a $10 million defamation suit, that a hyper-sexualized Equinox campaign emboldened a gym employee to falsely accuse him of pleasuring himself in front of him in the steam room.
The gym’s 2016-’17 “Commit to Something” ads featured images, including five near-naked people entwined on a bed “engaging in what could only be described as an “orgy,” the suit says.
Those ads created an atmosphere where then-employee Michael Alexander could make up the “false” self-help claim and it would be believed, according to the suit filed Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court.
The suit alleges Alexander was trying to “bolster his bargaining position” against Equinox, which had put the receptionist on a final warning for not showing up.
“The idea is that patently unbelievable allegations would be believed because they were consistent with the image that Equinox portrayed of itself. The false allegations could then be used as leverage against both Equinox and Mr. Hammond to obtain a monetary settlement,” Alexander’s lawyer Neal Brickman explained.
As a result of the May 21, 2018 accusation, Hammond’s 17-year membership was immediately terminated with the general manager citing the gym’s “zero tolerance” policy toward misconduct.
And the gym didn’t investigate until a month later, the court papers claim.
Hammond, 66, who is now in Portugal trying to kick-start his international arbitration career, was criminally charged with public lewdness and exposure of a person.
The criminal case was later dismissed but Hammond’s reputation has been dragged through the mud following all the media coverage, the court papers charge.
Alexander’s lawyer, Marc Held, said Hammond took a an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, meaning the charges go away if he doesn’t get into any more trouble for six months.
The Manhattan DA’s office could not comment as the case is sealed.
“Because they have created this branding that sex is rampant at Equinox, it lends more credence to the fact that someone would feel comfortable engaging in a sexually explicit act in that environment,” said Brickman.
“Even if the allegation is false,” Brickman said someone could easily think, “‘Oh yeah, that is the kind of stuff that goes on at Equinox. We can certainly believe it in this case.’”
Alexander was later fired and claims it was because he went public with his allegation in which he said that while he was off-duty using the steam room Hammond stared at him for 15 seconds and began to pleasure himself.
Alexander sued Equinox last year in Manhattan Supreme court and sued Hammond last week in Brooklyn Supreme court.
“We commenced a lawsuit against Mr. Hammond for the sexual assault, battery as well as threatening of my Client should he report this heinous behavior,” Held said, adding Hammond’s suit “is baseless and merely an attempt to intimidate my Client and deflect from his own actions.”
Brickman says if and when Hammond is served with Alexander’s new suit they will move to have it dismissed “because it has no basis in law or fact,” and Alexander’s claims have changed from his prior accounts to police, the media and Equinox.
An employee reached at the 14 Wall St. gym declined to comment but an Equinox spokesman said, “While Equinox as a policy does not comment on pending litigation, it intends to vigorously defend the claims against it. Equinox believes that this is a dispute purely between two individuals, Mr. Hammond and Mr. Alexander.”