Trauma surgeon gets apology from gym after membership misunderstanding

Dr. Steven Johnson was forced to confront police while canceling gym membership

Christie Ileto Image
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Trauma surgeon gets apology from gym after membership misunderstanding
Dr. Steven Johnson had to confront police while trying to cancel his gym membership. The gym says it was a misunderstanding.

FORT WASHINGTON, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Dr. Steven Johnson came to the Life Time Athletic facility in Fort Washington, Montgomery County to cancel his gym membership, but he ended up getting the police called on him.

"The moment I walked through the doors, I was met with a voice asking me if I was Steve Johnson," he said.

Johnson says he was approached by an Upper Dublin police officer.

"I told him who I was. He confirmed to me my birthdate which had my mouth drop to the floor because I didn't understand what was happening," Johnson recalled.

Johnson, who is a trauma surgeon, says he stopped by after work to terminate his gym membership. He had canceled in June, but had continued to get charged and thought canceling in person would be easier.

"Here I am, Dr. Steve Johnson. Regardless of how many children I have, or how I have been on the frontlines of COVID, none of that mattered in that very moment. And the thing that I thought about most deeply was I didn't think it was ok for Life Time to potentially make the deductions that I could be harmed in any way," he said.

Life Time's corporate office acknowledged to Action News it erroneously never canceled the membership in June, and that in July, Johnson's account had been fraudulently used in Princeton, NJ, where a theft had taken place, and therefore flagged his account.

And because of that, employees contacted police when he came to the gym in August, while following up on the cancellation of his membership.

Life Time released this statement to Action News:

"At Life Time, our expectations and commitment always is to operate with respect and care, and therefore, we were deeply concerned regarding this member's experience. Following a thorough review of this matter, we discovered three separate issues.

First, due to an inadvertent error, the membership was not cancelled as requested. This error has been corrected and a full refund of all charges has since been issued.

Second, in mid-July, this member's account was fraudulently used by a currently unidentified individual to gain access to our Princeton, NJ club. During that time, a theft was reported to have been committed by the individual who unlawfully gained access. The Plainsboro Township Police Department investigated the case and, pursuant to our procedures, the account was noted to contact the authorities upon subsequent check ins with the goal of identifying the unauthorized user.

Finally, during Dr. Johnson's visit in mid-August to address the membership cancellation, the club team contacted authorities per the account notation. Regrettably, as a result of this, Dr. Johnson was interviewed by the Upper Dublin Police. As he is the true membership account holder versus the aforementioned individual authorities were seeking, we deeply apologize and sincerely regret that this occurred.

As an outcome of this matter, we have implemented updates to our procedures both when notating membership accounts and escalating non-emergency matters to the authorities by requiring additional leadership approvals. For nearly 30 years, delivering uncompromising experiences and respecting the member point of view has been at the core of what we do at Life Time. Most importantly, Life Time is anti-racist and we won't tolerate any form of discrimination or prejudice. Ultimately, we embrace our responsibility to create a healthy way of life that honors, respects and champions everyone. That's why Dr. Johnson's experience certainly is not in keeping with our commitment and we're terribly sorry for what has occurred. It is our expectation that our principles are always upheld, and we believe the actions we're taking to amend our procedures will play an important role in preventing such outcomes in the future and working to achieve the world we want it to be."

"I feel like it was a failure of the system, to begin with, and that could have been a fatal failure for me overall, in the end, and I'm just thankful to God that didn't happen," said Johnson.

Chief Francis Wheatley of the Upper Dublin Police Department says in a statement, "As the Chief of Police, I was proud to hear that our officers properly handle this call. As a profession we expect our officers to always be professional, to show compassion not only to the complainant but also to the person who is the involved in the complaint. Ultimately, we want our police officers to be good listeners, to process the information they are receiving without bias to the people involved and to quickly determine if the incident itself requires a police response."

Meanwhile, Dr. Johnson says Life Time's apology falls flat.

"I can forgive, but I'm not sure I can forget," he says.

Johnson says he eventually hopes to have a face-to-face conversation with Life Time management about how this was handled.