Massage Envy facing lawsuit amid sexual assault claims

Five women have filed a civil lawsuit against Massage Envy, alleging male massage therapists sexually assaulted them before and during massages at franchise locations in the Bay Area, Sacramento and Southern California. 

The suit, filed in San Mateo County last month, but announced Monday, comes less than a year after an investigation by Buzzfeed News found that more than 180 people have filed sexual assault lawsuits, police reports, and state board complaints against Massage Envy spas, their employees, and the national company. 

In a statement, the law firms of Thompson Law Offices, P.C. and Laffey, Bucci & Kent, LLP, said the suit “seeks to stop a statewide epidemic of sexual assaults occurring at Massage Envy locations by Massage Envy’s massage therapists.” 

The suit claims Massage Envy, the largest chain of massage franchises in the country, is not doing enough to prevent, investigate, report and track sexual assaults. It seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial.

The suit claims that at a Burlingame location, one male massage therapist, who is now charged with 13 counts of sexual assault in San Mateo County, forced a female client to touch his penis and groped her before raping her in the massage room. 

The suit says that when the woman reported the allegations to Massage Envy management in Burlingame, managers refused to fire the massage therapist in question because “their stories did not match up.” 

The suit claims the massage therapist, who is now 29, had been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior before the incident and allowed to continue to work.   

The remainder of the women who are suing claim they were either sexually assaulted or sexually harassed at Massage Envy locations in Elk Grove, Redondo Beach, Beverly Hills, and West Covina. 

The suit also alleges several managers at various Massage Envy locations have mishandled or covered up incidents of alleged sexual misconduct.

For its part, Massage Envy declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday.

"While we aren’t able to comment on active litigation, we can tell you that we remain focused on our Commitment to Safety plan, which is further strengthening our existing policies. Safety is and will always be our priority and we will never stop working on it,'' the company said in a statement.

The six-point safety plan was developed following the allegations from the 180 people uncovered by Buzzfeed News last November. At the time, Massage Envy issued a statement that said: “The recent, heartbreaking stories of sexual assault suffered in Massage Envy franchise locations caused us to take a hard look at our business and at how we protect the members and guests who have placed their trust in the brand.”

To that end, the safety plans calls for updated background screening for the company’s roughly 20,000 massage therapists on an annual basis, more thorough investigations into sexual assault claims, a review of policies and procedures by an anti-sexual violence organization and better support for people who report alleged sexual misconduct.