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UK-Indian humiliated by gym staff teaches himself law, beats firm in court

After Ketan Aggarwal, who has autism, was called “stupid”, he spent years studying law books from the library to successfully represent himself in court against Virgin Active, a firm launched by Richard Branson.

world Updated: Mar 23, 2017 21:33 IST
Joyeeta Biswas
Joyeeta Biswas
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Ketan Aggarwal,autistic gym,autistic man law
Ketan Aggarwal, a resident of Southall, London, was attending a spin class at his gym in May 2015 when he was called “stupid” by gym staff.(Twitter)

If someone called you names, how far would you go to prove them wrong?

An Indian-origin autistic man in Britain who was called “stupid” went as far as studying law and poring over legal minutiae for two years to take on a multi-million dollar company in court - and emerge triumphant - according to a media report on Thursday.

It all started when Ketan Aggarwal, a resident of Southall, London, was attending a spin class at his gym in May 2015, and happened to agree with the cyclist next to him that the music was too slow, the Daily Mail reported. The class instructor seemed to take umbrage, yelling at Aggarwal, and then later calling the autistic 30-year-old “stupid” twice on the microphone in front of the entire class.

When Aggarwal’s complaints to the gym authorities fell on deaf ears, he decided to take a different route to payback — suing the company, Virgin Active, and combatting it single-handedly in court — proving in the most emphatic way possible that he was anything but stupid.

Virgin Active is a chain of health clubs launched as a part of British businessman Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

According to the report, Aggarwal spent years studying precedents and rules on discrimination by borrowing law books from the library and perusing the internet to represent himself in court and successfully argue that he had been a victim of disability harassment. The court ordered Virgin Active to pay him £1,200, as well as costs of £190, to give a written apology and to train its staff.

“Calling someone with a mental disability ‘stupid’ is similar to mocking a guy in a wheelchair. If I was that stupid I wouldn’t have been able to successfully pursue the claim against a solicitor of a billion pound company,” Aggarwal said, according to the report.

He said he had to “live in the library” and learn to submit paperwork from the internet. “It was worth it though. It wasn’t about the money, it was about the principle.”

In an apology, Virgin Active said it wanted everyone to feel welcome at its health clubs and prides itself on inclusiveness. “We are very sorry that one of our members had a negative experience whilst using one of our clubs and hope they can continue to use and enjoy our facilities moving forwards,” the company said.

First Published: Mar 23, 2017 20:35 IST