Type to search

Intown Stars gymnastics working to resolve discrimination lawsuit filed by former employees

Business Decatur DeKalb County Trending

Intown Stars gymnastics working to resolve discrimination lawsuit filed by former employees

Intown Stars is located at 421 DeKalb Industrial Way. Photo by Dean Hesse

This story has been updated.

Greater Decatur, GA — Earlier this year, the owner of a popular local gym was relieved of her duties after she blasted parents in a social media post.

Behind the scenes, Anna Santiago and her leadership team at Intown Stars were also facing allegations of racial discrimination in a federal lawsuit filed by two former employees. Intown denied the allegations in its response, but a recent court filing indicates both parties are working to resolve the matter via mediation.

Santiago and her attorney did not respond to a message from Decaturish seeking comment for this story. The former employees’ attorney said they would not be available for interviews.

It’s also unclear whether Santiago is still running the company. A press release sent to Decaturish on March 26 about the company winning the Georgia Business Journal’s “Best of Georgia” and Atlanta Magazine’s “Best of Atlanta” Awards identifies her as the current owner and CEO. Her voicemail message directs people to call Intown if they have questions about the business. The public relations representative who sent the press release did not respond to a message seeking clarification.

In the federal lawsuit, former employees Amberly Toole and Tylasia Scott, who are both Black, allege a pattern of discrimination by the white members of the Intown leadership team.

Specific alleged incidents include:

— Derogatory comments directed at Black employees, including a racial slur and saying, “of course you are” to two Black employees eating chicken wings with hot sauce

— An allegation that Santiago referred to her Black employees as “a cancer”

— An allegation that Santiago, during the summer of 2020, described herself as “formerly racist” and said that the Black Lives Matter movement was “giving her PTSD.” She also allegedly said she was not sure she could hire any Black people to work for the company, according to the complaint.

— An allegation that most of the staff members furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 were Black and that white employees were “disproportionately allowed” to come back to work, ahead of Black employees.

“Black employees, particularly those that complained about race discrimination, were not brought back from the furlough, thereby terminating their employment,” the lawsuit says.

— An allegation that Santiago sent an email saying she did not trust a Black employee because the employee was close to other employees who complained about discrimination.

The incident that led to Santiago’s controversial social media post also involved a Black employee.

Santiago fired popular coach Taylor McClendon days before the season’s first competition. McLendon, who is also Black, declined to comment to Decaturish for this story. In Santiago’s post, she referred to Taylor — whom she did not name — as “deeply problematic, insubordinate, toxic employee who happened to be a gifted, albeit highly neurotic and anxiety-ridden coach.”

McLendon’s firing devastated parents and the athletes he coached, many of whom followed him to another gym.

Leslie Dean Petosa, whose daughter studied under McLendon, said the whole team moved to a gym in Tucker after the incident. 

“It feels very much like she made a rash decision,” Petosa said. 

Mike Davis, another parent, had a daughter at the gym who had been going there since fourth grade. He said parents were shocked by McLendon’s departure.

“It was really unfortunate,” he said. “They’d been training for months and months.” 

Brittany Baker, the former chief operating officer of Intown Stars, said that there had been significant staff changes before McLendon’s firing. She said Intown’s entire executive team, including her, left over the months of August and September.

“It was time for change,” Baker said. “… The business was struggling financially, and the owner wasn’t listening to the ideas that the executive team had to make the changes that needed to be made in order to continue moving forward.” 

Baker is also named in the lawsuit and accused of derogatory remarks toward the former Intown employees suing the company. She said those allegations are not true.

“I was unfortunately wrapped up in that situation due to my title and my role with the company,” Baker said. 

She regretted what happened to the gymnastics team when Intown fired McLendon.

It’s an unforeseen situation that happened to the children,” Baker said. “All the adults, we can maneuver through life; what happened to the kids seven days before their first competition was unfortunate.” 

Want Decaturish delivered to your inbox every day? Sign up for our free newsletter by clicking here.

If you appreciate our work on this story, please become a paying supporter. For as little as $10 a month, you can help us keep you in the loop about your community.