BURLINGAME, Calif. (KTVU) - For more than a decade, a woman from the Bay Area has been getting massages to relieve her upper back pain, however, after what she describes as a traumatizing experience, she now claims she will never get another massage in her life.
While she did not want to be identified, she did admit she’s one of the new 26 women from California named as Jane Doe in an expanding lawsuit alleging sexual assault by therapists working for national chain, Massage Envy.
“It’s almost the perfect breeding ground for sexual predators,” she said. “It was beyond disturbing.”
More than 30 women claim they were recently inappropriately touched, groped or penetrated by massage therapists in this single lawsuit filed in San Mateo County. There are several other suits filed in other states, court records show.
Massage Envy has more than 1,100 franchise locations that employ a total of roughly 35,000 people, according to its website. 2 Investigates asked Massage Envy to answer questions regarding the sexual allegations and its business practices but a spokesperson only said, “We do not comment on active litigation.”
“This company knowing that it has a problem with sexual assaults has a duty to warn the public and its customers about this problem and they’re not doing that,” Attorney Bobby Thompson said. “This is not one or two bad apples. This entire tree is rotten and unless the root of the problem is fixed, it’s going to continue.”
The woman who spoke with 2 Investigates said her massage at the Alameda location started like normal but then took a turn and lead to her getting sexually assaulted.
“He started kind of cupping my breasts and at that point I cleared my throat very loudly and he immediately got his hand around my throat,” she said. “He just seemed very comfortable. The blanket is totally off me and he’s just fondling me really violently and I was in complete shock. And this went on for several minutes.”
She also explained that the therapist had her on her stomach when she alleges he reached his hand into her underwear, rubbing her buttocks. Thompson is representing the woman along with others who claim even more disturbing allegations.
“We believe this company has a systematic approach to keeping these things quiet, to covering them up because if their brand is associated with sexual assaults than that brand is less valuable and they’re making less money,” Thompson said.
Across the county, reports say there are at least 180 claims of sexual assault at Massage Envy franchises. While the company would not respond to questions, 2 Investigates did obtain a video message sent from the company CEO Joe Magnacca to the employees.
“As a film this video, suits have been filed in California, Florida and New Jersey and we expect a few more states to file over the coming weeks,” Magnacca said. “We will not let the terrible actions of a few overshadow the incredible commitment and professionalism of tens of thousands of amazing therapists and aestheticians. Please know that we are working tirelessly to tell the Massage Envy story and reinforce our commitment to safety.”
However, the amended complaint claims Massage Envy concealed sexual allegations, handling complaints or cases of alleged assault ‘in house’ and allowed accused therapists to remain employed or transferred them to other locations. It goes on to say, the ‘negligent, careless and reckless acts caused predators to violate unsuspecting women.’
All of the women reported the alleged abuse to the franchise or the corporate office. At least a quarter also filed something with the local police, according to Thompson. That includes the woman 2 Investigates spoke with who said detectives with Alameda Police are still investigating. She also said the Massage Envy location she visited never responded to her report until she contacted the corporate office. In the end, she said the manager of the Alameda business defended her employee and refused to fire him because stories didn’t match up.
The Alameda Massage Envy referred us to the corporate press contact and would not answer any questions about the alleged incident.
Similarly, several women said they were assaulted by a therapist at the Burlingame location. One alleged victim said she was touched, groped and licked, then became ‘frozen in fear and shock.’ The lawsuit claims the two had nonconsensual sex and afterwards was told to ‘wipe herself down.’ Additionally, the suit claims the therapist kept working even after the business received two reports about inappropriate behavior.
Despite being told a manager from the Burlingame location would call back, 2 Investigates never received a response.
Massage Envy has a tab on its website called ‘Commitment to Safety’ where it says the company is taking steps to stop and better investigate sexual assault.
Despite efforts by the company to address sexual assaults, Thompson said it’s important that there is a cultural change so women aren’t taken advantage of when they are vulnerable.
“What we’re doing here is we’re getting them all together, locking arms together and with one voice telling this company what they did was wrong and they need to be held accountable for it and change,” Thompson said.