A high-functioning autistic man who was repeatedly berated and humiliated by staff members at a Virgin Active health club in London has had the last laugh courtesy his impressive, savant-like intelligence.
According to The U.K. Daily Telegraph, when autistic gym goer Ketan Aggarwal, 30, overheard a female classmate at his indoor cycling class complain that the music was slow and “unmotivating,” he agreed with her — and for that, he paid a dear price.
“He (the instructor) started shouting across the room and told me my ‘opinion was bollocks’ in the middle of the class,” Aggarwal recalled of the May, 2015, incident. “I stayed quiet but it made me feel horrible. He singled me out even though I only agreed with someone else. I believe this is because of my autism.”
As someone who also suffers from high-functioning autism, I tend to agree. For whatever reason, the very obvious social handicaps of this particular disorder sometimes provoke others into acting like bullies. Trust me; I know.
That said, when the class ended, the instructor doubled down on his bullying ways by twice calling Aggarwal “stupid” over the microphone, according to The Daily Telegraph. The autistic man immediately complained, but Virgin Active reportedly refused to take action.
Furious at the double dose of mistreatment — first from the instructor and then from the health club itself — Aggarwal single-handedly filed a lawsuit against the club without the help of a lawyer. However, it then took almost two years for him to prepare for his day in court.
“I’m not a legal professional and I had to do a huge amount of paperwork,” he told the newspaper. “I had to live in the library, picking up law from the books, and getting templates for submitting paperwork from the internet.”
“It was worth it though,” he added. “It wasn’t about the money, it was about the principle.”
A principle that he successfully proved in court, where he convinced the judge in February to rule against Virgin Active on the grounds that it had perpetrated disability discrimination.
The health club was subsequently ordered to pay Aggarwal about $1,500 in damages and $240 for court costs.
It was also ordered to amend its training programs and apologize to Aggarwal in writing. And as for the jerk instructor who started this whole mess, he has been dismissed.
“It felt amazing to win,” Aggarwal said. “When someone discriminates someone with a mental disability, they don’t think they are going to pick up law, submit a legal claim and then successfully argue it in a court of law.”
Hopefully, Aggarwal’s actions will serve as inspiration to other autistic men and women across the world who too sometimes must, because of the stupidity of others, deal with mean-spirited bullies.
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