Lawsuit accuses Massage Envy of molesting clients in Palm Beach County

Updated Aug 27, 2018
File photo of Massage Envy

What was to be a relaxing mother-and-daughter outing to celebrate Mother’s Day at Massage Envy turned ugly when both women — in separate rooms — said they were abused by masseurs at the national chain’s Boca Raton storefront, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

The May 2017 incident — one of nearly a dozen separate assaults described in the lawsuit — underscores how rampant sexual abuse is at the chain that grew into a national sensation by making massages affordable to regular working people, attorneys said.

The two unidentified women were among 11 who joined in the lawsuit that claims the Arizona-based company put profits ahead of customer safety at its franchises in West Palm Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and three locations on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

When complaints of inappropriate touching, groping and even rape were brought to the company’s attention, in most cases it buried them, attorneys Jennifer Lipinski and Brian Kent wrote in the 163-page lawsuit.

“Massage Envy not only failed to provide basic safety to clients in a most vulnerable setting, but it systemically and intentionally conspired and concealed the rampant problem of massage therapists at Massage Envy franchises,” they wrote.

Instead of alerting police or a state licensing board, the company’s policies allowed the abuse to continue, they said.

“Massage Envy’s policy of telling staff to ‘not go to police’ was singularly designed to continue its profit and protect the brand at the expense of the safety of unsuspecting customers,” they wrote.

The massage giant, which touts on its website that it has 35,000 employees at nearly 1,200 locations across the country, didn’t return an email for comment. Since its founding in 2002, its franchises have performed more than 135 million massages and other treatments, it says.

Kent, a Philadelphia lawyer, filed a similar lawsuit against the company this month in California. He promised more would follow. The suits grew from a November 2017 investigation by BuzzFeed that found 180 women across the country had been molested by Massage Envy therapists.

Both Kent and Lipinski said they believe far more women — and men — were assaulted. “Unfortunately, daily we have received more information from women and men who have been assaulted not just in Palm Beach County but throughout the country,” said Lipinski, who practices in Palm Beach Gardens.

Each of the cases is unique. In two separate incidents, women said male masseurs fondled their genitals at the chain’s locations on Southern Boulevard in Royal Palm Beach and on Village Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Some of the women were receiving massages to cope with lifelong back pain or other injuries. To protect their identifies due to the nature of the attacks, all of the women are identified only as Jane Does.

In many cases, the women didn’t know the names of the massage therapists who assaulted them, the attorneys said. The exception was a woman in Largo who filed a complaint with the Florida Board of Massage Therapy. The board responded by revoking the license of the therapist, Murtagh Meyler. It is unclear whether any criminal charges were filed.

As part of the lawsuit, Kent says he hopes to get internal records to show when company officials knew about the assaults and what, if anything, they did about it.

He and Lipinski declined to say how much they would be seeking. Kent described it only as a “major civil lawsuit.”