Nearly a year after it was rocked by allegations that it failed to keep clients safe from sexual abuse, Massage Envy is facing a rash of lawsuits by women who say nothing has changed.
Eleven women filed a new suit against the billion-dollar company on Monday, alleging they were sexually assaulted while getting massages in at least five Florida locations.
The Arizona-based company, which has some 1,200 franchises across the country, was the subject of an investigation by BuzzFeed last November that revealed more than 180 customers said they had been sexually assaulted at the spas.
In the 168-page complaint filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court this week, attorneys for the unidentified women claim the company knew of these allegations and took steps to make sure they were never brought to law enforcement.
The women—some of whom say they went to the franchise “seeking treatment for painful spinal injuries”—are identified only as “Jane Does” in the court papers because of the nature of the allegations, according to their attorney.
“These women feel it is one thing to be assaulted and exploited, but it is another that the company itself is promoting a safe environment while simultaneously employing these sexual assailants,” Brient Kent, the women’s lawyer told The Daily Beast. “They are taking safety out of the hands of the customer.”
One of the women told The Daily Beast that simply filing the lawsuit felt like a victory.
“I feel this sense of empowerment and relief like all the fears I had before of coming forward or saying anything to even myself have been lifted,” said the woman, who is identified as Jane Doe #7 in the complaint.
During her “third or fourth” visit to a Massage Envy spa in 2016, she was “inappropriately touched without her consent” by a massage therapist, according to the filing. Though she reported the incident to Massage Envy, no action was taken against the therapist at the time, the suit alleges.
“Today was a small victory and this is one battle won. The war is yet to come but it is the start in the right direction,” she said.
The women’s filing contends that Massage Envy “actively sought to conceal the knowledge and danger of customers being sexually assaulted within their business locations by actively preventing sexual assault reports from being reported to law enforcement and/or state massage therapy boards.”
“This is a systemic problem from the top down that is allowing this culture of secrecy with regards to the number of sexual assaults that are happening,” Kent said.
The Palm Beach suit comes on the heels of a lawsuit by five plaintiffs in San Mateo County, California, who accused Massage Envy of negligence, sexual battery, gender violence, false imprisonment, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, after they they were allegedly harassed or sexually assaulted at franchises.
“This lawsuit is being brought on behalf of numerous women that suffered egregious sexual assaults and exploitation at the hands of Massage Envy’s massage therapists,” the law firms of Thompson Law Offices, P.C. and Laffey, Bucci & Kent, LLP said at the time, in a press release. “Without their courage and strength of these brave women to put an end to the rampant problem of sexual assaults occurring at Massage Envy’s locations, we would not be in a position to help hold Massage Envy accountable.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast last week, Massage Envy said: “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.”
Buzzfeed’s original investigation found 180 complaints, civil lawsuits, and police reports claiming sexual-assault at Massage Envy locations across the country. The women told Buzzfeed that they were groped, digitally penetrated, and raped at locations all across the country and that the company either ignored or mishandled the complaints.
In response, Massage Envy released a “Commitment to Safety” on its website in December, promising in a six-point plan “to drive additional, meaningful change” within its 1,200 franchises, including a more robust reporting system.
“We are requiring that if a client makes an allegation of sexual assault, the franchisee will provide the client with contact information for local law enforcement and offer a private room to complete the call,” said the press release, which also announced a partnership with sexual-assault prevention organization RAINN.
“We are working with RAINN on response services, including victim support, and—through the National Sexual Assault Hotline—free access to immediate confidential assistance, trained staff and other resources,” Massage Envy said in December.
Multiple messages left for a spokeswoman at RAINN were not immediately returned on Monday.