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In August 2014, Jennifer Brody was working as a studio manager at California’s Palo Alto SoulCycle when she met Conor Kelly, a “master instructor” with SoulCycle. Kelly was in town from the East Coast to teach a class.
After the class ended, Brody, who is a Black woman, said she changed out of her workout clothes and put a bandana on her head. When she passed Kelly in the studio, she said, he laughed and said “Whoa — Aunt Jemima!” in an apparent reference to the syrup and pancake brand.
“That he felt OK calling me ‘Aunt Jemima’ in the middle of a studio lobby in Palo Alto was disgusting,” Brody recently told Business Insider. Brody said she told a couple of instructors of color about Kelly’s remark, but she didn’t officially report it because, she believed, “There wasn’t anyone who would have cared.”
“SoulCycle kind of turned the cheek on a lot of stuff as long as they were making money,” Brody added.
While SoulCycle instructors were fawned over by riders and the company’s top brass, insiders said inappropriate behavior became more commonplace as SoulCycle’s cult following grew.
While top-tier talent was lavished with perks like Soho House memberships and, in one case, a Mercedes-Benz while teaching in the Hamptons, insiders said some of SoulCycle’s most successful instructors discriminated against a pregnant woman, fat-shamed employees, slept with riders, and used homophobic and racist language.
Business Insider spoke with more than 25 SoulCycle insiders — including current and former riders, studio staff, instructors, and corporate employees — many of whom accused SoulCycle of turning a blind eye to egregious behavior because the instructors were too valuable to let go of.