Health Club's Membership Nearly Impossible to Cancel, Lawsuit Claims

PHOTO: A general view of Equinox at their first UK location, Oct. 23, 2012, in London.

"Equinox made me do it." That tag line, from a new ad campaign by the health club chain, may have an ironic meaning for Equinox members, according to a class action suit filed on their behalf.

The chain's contracts, claims the suit, force members to "automatically and perpetually renew" their memberships, making it exceedingly difficult for them to quit.

Equinox operates 64 upscale health clubs in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and a variety of other U.S. cities, as well as in locations overseas.

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The ad campaign, by Wieden + Kennedy of Portland, Ore., features people who find themselves in what Equinox's PR firm calls "compromising situations" brought on by their fitness. One ad, for example, shows a man in business attire scaling a barbed-wire fence. Another shows a woman in a bathing suit being escorted by two security guards out of a country club.

The implication of the images, says an Equinox spokesperson, is that when you get into shape, "you might just get into a little trouble" because of the "unbridled confidence, lowered inhibitions and playful naughtiness" that are consequences of a good workout.

Equinox, says Carlos Becil, the chain's senior vice president of marketing, wants to push its members to "break boundaries."

What it doesn't want them to do, according to the class action suit, is break their contracts.

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Joseph Jones, attorney for the plaintiffs, alleges that Equinox's contracts violate a variety of laws. For example, he said, contracts signed by Equinox customers in New Jersey are retail installment contracts, and, as such, must disclose on their first page the customer's total financial obligation. "These contracts do not," he told ABC News. "They don't disclose the math on the first page."

Likewise, according to the complaint, Equinox is violating the Health Club Services Act (HCSA) by using contracts that obligate customers "to automatically and perpetually renew" their memberships by imposing "unreasonable and unduly onerous" cancellation requirements. The HCSA gives consumers the right to cancel in writing, by personal delivery to the address specified in the membership agreement. Equinox's contracts, though, stipulate that members can cancel only via certified or registered mail, according to the complaint.

Some contracts, the complaint says, fail to tell the customer he or she has three days after signing in which to cancel, as required by the HCSA.

Equinox, asked by ABC News for its response, said through a spokesperson: "While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we believe our membership agreements fully comply with all applicable laws. Equinox takes every effort to ensure the highest quality of service in all aspects our business and to provide an unparalleled member experience."

The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) -- the health club industry's leading association, with some 10,000 members -- recommends that consumers, before joining any club, make sure they understand the terms of the contract they are signing.

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"Know what the cooling-off period is," IHRSA's guidelines recommend. "Most clubs provide a three- to five-day cooling off period, which provides a sufficient window of time during which you can decide if the facility and services are desirable."

Be sure you understand the cancellation policy, IHRSA recommends. "Don't feel pressure to sign any contract on the spot. You are entitled to take the contract home and read it before you make a final decision."

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