(KTVU) - A national massage chain sued for hundreds of alleged sexual assaults by therapists is now being accused of trying to cover things up and prevent cases from being made public.
Massage Envy is facing lawsuits in a handful of states, including California, where the number of women who claim to have been sexually assaulted tops 50 and the case continues to expand.
“This stuff is still happening within the company even though there are all these lawsuits against them,” attorney Bobby Thompson said.
There are fears new cases, or even existing ones, may never become public because buried in the terms and conditions is an arbitration clause that explains customers must agree to take up problems or concerns with a mediator. It’s a way to keep cases out of court and under wraps.
“I was mortified,” one victim said. “I was actually really upset. It’s just horrifying that they would allow this to happen and then take steps to cover up what is happening.”
When a customer signs in for their massage, they electronically click and answer questions on a tablet including areas of stress and pain, areas of consent and health history. Then, there’s the
“I think that’s a pretty significant piece of information to disclose when you’re presented with an iPad talk about your back or legs hurting and then oh by the way, check this box and sign,” a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted said.
That woman who didn’t want to be identified was a member at the Massage Envy in Burlingame where she had been getting massaged for more than a year. However, the last time she was there she said she was touched, groped and licked and became frozen in fear and shock. The nightmare did not end as she tried to play dead she was forced to have nonconsensual sex and afterwards told by the therapist to wipe herself down. She is just one of more than 180 cases filed against the massage chain across the country.
2 Investigates reported on the expanding California lawsuit in October where attorneys were critical of the chain’s business practices. Thompson said forced arbitration points to the company’s attempt to protect the brand and keep bad behavior hidden .
“It’s just a greedy corporate way to save money and to keep the public from knowing the rampant problem with sexual assaults occurring at Massage Envys all over the country,” he said.
“It’s appalling,” the alleged victim said. “I don’t want this to go to arbitration. It was a serious crime that happened repeatedly in the same location by the same therapist.”
That Burlingame therapist was Brandon Davis, who is now criminally charged and accused of sexually assaulting nearly a dozen other women as a therapist.
Massage Envy does not comment on specific litigation, but did send the following statement:
“Massage Envy is committed to promoting a safe environment for members, guests and service providers at each of our 1,200 franchise locations nationwide. We urge anyone that experiences anything other than a safe, quality massage to report it immediately to the franchise location so that it can be investigated.
We support the decision of any victim to report misconduct and it is the policy of Massage Envy to require its franchisees to supply any guest who claims to be a victim of sexual misconduct with the contact information of local law enforcement and the state board. As a confidential reporting option to any such guest, franchisees also are required to provide information for RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline. The hotline provides an anonymous link to a local sexual assault service provider who is trained to support victims of sexual assault and help them navigate the support, policy, and care that is most effective for them.
Based on the guidance from leading experts, including RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the US, it is our policy it respect the victim's privacy and the victim's right to decide whether they would like to report to law enforcement, the state board, or anyone else. We do require franchisees to report to law enforcement when required by law.
We will never stop working to improve our safety policies.”
However, in many of the cases, there are allegations therapists were allowed to remain employed or shuffled to another Massage Envy location.
“If corporations are allowed to do this stuff and not pay any price in the public eye, then they’re never going to change, Thompson said. “And this company needs to be held accountable for their egregious behavior.”
Massage Envy claims it has a zero tolerance police and requires franchises to provide local law enforcement and state board information to anyone who feels they’ve been victimized.