A popular former Peloton instructor sued the company for $1.8 million Wednesday, alleging an executive disparaged his Irish ethnicity and ridiculed him for seeking a Covid-19 vaccination exemption.
In a complaint filed in Manhattan civil court in New York, Daniel McKenna — known on his social media platforms as “Irish Yanks” — also alleges Chief Content Officer Jennifer Cotter said he could be fired for taking short-term disability leave after a work-related injury and operation.
The leave was at odds with the culture of “corporate America,” the suit alleges Cotter said.
Peloton did not respond to a request for comment.
McKenna was invited to audition for the company after having built a following as a personal fitness instructor, the suit says.
McKenna has more than 120,000 followers on two Instagram pages, one of which posted high-energy workouts. He experienced an “80 percent growth in followers and highest percentage growth of any Peloton instructor,” the suit claims.
In October 2021, three months after McKenna was hired, he requested a Covid-19 exemption when an unexpected operation prompted him to be concerned that the vaccine could impede his recovery, the suit says.
“Remarkably, defendant Cotter made disparaging and denigrating remarks,” the suit says, claiming she “categorically denied listening to or exploring the potential” for an exemption.
After McKenna was vaccinated, the suit alleges, Cotter “forced” him to observe a 14-day quarantine period while he repeatedly tested negative.
The suit alleges that Cotter commented on McKenna’s accent, suggesting that “nobody understands what you are saying” and telling him in staff meetings and in front of the company’s new CEO that she hoped he was not drunk.
“That’s Daniel our Irish instructor, he’s rough around the edges and hard to understand but the members love him,” she told the CEO, according to the suit.
When McKenna asked Cotter to stop the comments in a phone call, she “unapologetically stated that she was mostly joking,” the suit claims.
McKenna took about two months of disability leave after what the suit described as a work-related injury and another operation this year, according to the complaint. In a June meeting, he was told his position at Peloton was “not looking good,” the suit claims.
McKenna was fired Sept. 12 for reasons that have not been provided, the suit says. The company offered a severance package of six months of upfront pay totaling $130,000 but ultimately offered an amount “significantly lower and in breach” of his employment agreement, the suit says.
The suit claims unlawful retaliation, breach of contract and disability and national origin discrimination.
McKenna is seeking $300,000 in compensatory damages, $1 million in punitive damages and $500,000 in salary, interest and benefits, according to the suit.