SoulCycle Knew Their Top Instructors Were Problematic—And Let It Slide

This just in: bougie fitness company offering classes geared at wealthy white people fostered a toxic environment full of gross behavior and intolerance. I know, I’m just as shocked as you are to hear that SoulCyle is not a very inclusive place to work! At least, that’s the picture a new report from Business Insider is painting after speaking with more than 30 SoulCycle insiders, from current and former riders to studio staff and corporate employees. Some of the company’s top instructors are accused of making fatphobic, homophobic, and racist comments; developing inappropriate relationships with riders; and more.

A SoulCycle spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement: “At SoulCycle, our priority has always been to build a community centered on our core values of diversity, inclusion, acceptance and love. When we receive complaints or allegations related to behavior within our community that does not align to our values, we take those very seriously and both investigate and address them.”

One key element of the SoulCycle business/culture that’s crucial to understand is that some instructors were not just your run-of-the-mill fitness instructors who would teach a few classes here or there. Some of these top instructors had built up cult-like followings. People would book classes specifically for these instructors; some of their classes would have waitlists within seconds of opening up for booking. This would earn SoulCycle more money. (Think of that scene in Parks and Rec when April is pretending to get along with Tynnyfer after Eagleton merges with Pawnee, and she’s like, “OMG who’s your spinning instructor, Gregory or Wynona? Wynona rocks my world” and then Tynnyfer is like, “I only go to Yonis, who are Gregory and Wynona? You need to get me in there, that’s a must, must, MUST.”)

Parks and Rec is a satirical show, but these types of people literally exist, and knowingly or not, they contributed to this lack-of-accountability culture. SoulCycle would reward their master instructors with perks such as Soho House memberships, thousands of dollars worth of birthday gifts, and even went so far as to establish a talent agency with WME specifically for their top-tier instructors, to give you an idea of how much air they pumped into these people’s egos. All of that is just to answer your first question right away, which any rational person would have, which is: how did these people not get fired for these offenses? The answer is money. As for your second question, which will be, “WTF is wrong with these people??” that I cannot answer.

So now that you understand the why, let’s break down the who. There are four major instructors implicated in this story. Let’s get to know them.

Conor Kelly

I imagine that all SoulCycle instructors are hot, but Conor is apparently especially attractive: with his “chiseled abs and sleeve of tattoos” (again, I would think all SoulCycle instructors have chiseled abs and many have tattoos, given that it’s 2020, but Business Insider made a point to note these characteristics, so I will do the same), he attracted a dedicated group of riders who were dubbed the “Conz Crew” (inventive). Like the Doc Antle of SoulCycle, Kelly taught classes that were likened to “a sex dungeon” and once led class in neon women’s shorts and no underwear. (SoulCycle apparently has a policy that forbids instructors from showing their nipples, but I guess nothing on d*ck outlines.) It was supposedly common knowledge that he would have sex with riders and send them nudes. This apparently caused problems both with other riders and people’s spouses. While it’s not clear what, if any, policy SoulCycle has on instructors having sex with clients, as one rider said to Business Insider, “in any other type of work environment, no one would tolerate that.”

Kelly also reportedly once called a Black employee “Aunt Jemima” because she put a bandana on her head. The employee told a few other instructors about the comment, but didn’t report it because she didn’t think anyone would have cared.

Kelly’s schedule was cut back in 2019 and he was relocated to mainly NYC studios so corporate could keep an eye on him, according to a former corporate staff member.

Laurie Cole

According to accounts by a former rider and SoulCycle employees, Cole treated her classes like an Abercrombie & Fitch store in 2004, only letting the fittest and most attractive riders have the privilege of being stationed in the front row. One woman alleged that she was pregnant and Cole kicked her out of her front row spot and stationed her in the back. (She sent an email to SoulCycle’s lawyers but as far as the woman knew, Cole was never disciplined.) Cole would even take pictures of staff members and order studio managers to remove ones from her shift that she didn’t deem to be in good enough shape. And it worked, because Cole would threaten to not teach if she didn’t get her way.

Also disturbingly, Cole used homophobic language, once saying in 2017, “Well, they better not hire a bunch of twinks to work there” when discussing a new studio opening in Park Slope. The manager Cole said this to reported it to someone at corporate, who said they would escalate the complaint to HR. Nothing ever happened.

She would also berate people who got her green juice order wrong, because of course she would.

Cole was reprimanded and on several occasions, she met with the company’s chief people officer and chief talent officer. She was also taken off the schedule several times. 

Janet Fitzgerald

SoulCycle’s senior training officer would sometimes call riders “little sluts” and, according to one longtime instructor, asked candidates about their sexual orientation during training. The instructor in question told Business Insider that she found the question to be “super bizarre and unnecessary.” It is also super illegal!

Another senior instructor said Fitzgerald would make weird sexual comments during training, such as “Do you want to get f*cked? You’re never getting f*cked if you look like that. Let your hair down. Put on some lipstick or something.” Despite having a very warped view of what will make a straight man turn down sex (which in my experience is next to nothing), these comments are also incredibly strange and inappropriate. And they’re coming from the senior training officer!

Fitzgerald is still listed as an instructor on the SoulCycle website.

Mike Press

Press, who taught in New York pre-pandemic but is now teaching in Westchester and Greenwich, was accused of sexual impropriety by multiple women. One former rider and one high-up employee claim he sent them inappropriate Instagram DMs, and he would tell the employee not to tell HR. He also began dating one rider when he was 31 and she was 20. The two had an on-again, off-again relationship until she says he pressured her into giving her a blow job in her dorm room. Her emails to SoulCycle about the incident went unanswered, as did the email of one of her friends who wrote to SoulCycle about the incident (another one of her friends who emailed got a response that the email had been “elevated to the proper internal teams”). Another woman who wrote to sound the alarm about Press’s treatment of women did not receive a response from SoulCycle.

SoulCycle also said to Business Insider, We are committed to continuing to make improvements and ensuring that we live up to the values that our teams and riders expect of us.” No word yet on what those improvements might be, and as of now, all of the instructors are still employed by SoulCycle.

Images: Noam Galai/Getty Images; Tenor