Days after several Massage Envy storefronts in Palm Beach County were sued for failing to protect women from sexual assault, a 42-year-old suburban West Palm Beach man appeared in court this week to answer charges that he molested a client while working at the company’s store on Southern Boulevard.
Juan Pablo Parra was charged with attempted sexual battery after a woman claimed he groped her in April while he was giving her a massage at the national chain’s location in Royal Palm Beach. He also was charged with battery in connection with a March attack on another woman. It was unclear from court records whether the second incident occurred while Parra was working at Massage Envy.
During a brief court appearance Wednesday, Parra was ordered to stay away from Massage Envy locations and from the women who claim he assaulted them. He denied touching the woman at the Royal Palm Beach spa inappropriately, according to a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy who recommended that Parra be charged with sexual battery. Parra is to formally enter a plea to the charges on Sept. 6.
The names of the women were redacted in court records due to the nature of their allegations.
In a statement, Massage Envy said Parra is no longer employed and is not eligible to work for any franchise.
Attorney Adam Horowitz said he represents the woman who claims Parra grabbed her genitals when he was giving her a massage in April. He also represents two other women who are suing Massage Envy, claiming they were assaulted by therapists at spas in Wellington and Palm Beach Gardens. That doesn’t include suits he has filed against the national chain on behalf of women in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, he said.
The number of lawsuits against massage parlors is growing because the national chain made massages affordable, Horowitz said. More people are getting massages, he said.
“It’s not just Massage Envy,” Horowitz said. “They’re just the biggest game in town. But it happens all the time. Where is there more opportunity than having an undressed person in a room?”
In the lawsuit filed Monday against the Arizona-based chain, attorneys claim the company did nothing to stop the attacks or punish workers who were implicated in them.
“It systemically and intentionally conspired and concealed the rampant problem of massage therapists at Massage Envy franchises,” attorneys Jennifer Lipinski and Brian Kent wrote in a 163-page lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
They are representing 11 women who say they were assaulted at the Massage Envy spa in Royal Palm Beach where Parra worked, as well as spas in Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
As an industry leader, the chain should do more to protect its clients, Horowitz said.
Massage Envy didn’t respond to requests for comment about this week’s lawsuit but said it had beefed up safety rules and background checks and had taken other precautions after BuzzFeed reported last year that 180 women had been assaulted at Massage Envy storefronts nationwide.
Horowitz said the Florida Department of Health should do more to rein in problem massage therapists. Although Parra was arrested last week, his license to work as a massage therapist is still active and clear, according to the department’s website. Consumers rely on the website to check out health professionals, he said.
Brad Dalton, a spokesman for the state health department, said it has a “zero-tolerance policy” for sexual misconduct by massage therapists.
“The penalty imposed on a therapist who commits an act of sexual misconduct in the practice of massage therapy is revocation of licensure,” he said.
There is no record of discipline being taken against any Massage Envy franchise, he said.