Over 180 people have filed complaints about sexual harassment at Massage Envy locations across the country. The franchise is the largest in its industry, with over 1,200 spas nationwide.
BuzzFeed News reports that over 180 people filed lawsuits and complaints with police and state boards about sexual harassment at Massage Envy spas. Dozens of women have said their masseurs groped their genitals or their breasts, or committed other violations.
Massage Envy told BuzzFeed News it could not respond "point-by-point" to the allegations because of "pending litigation."
Melanie Hansen, general counsel of Massage Envy Franchising, told BuzzFeed News the company tried to create the "most stringent, rigorous policies" for hiring in the massage industry.
"We hold franchise owners accountable to our policies and, when we say nothing is more important to us than treating clients with respect and giving them a safe, professional experience, we mean it," Hansen said.
However, BuzzFeed News discovered that their policies on reporting inappropriate behavior from staff are more about protecting the company name than the customers.
The site also notes that many states don't require massage parlours to report sexual assault claims. But the American Massage Therapy Association told BuzzFeed it "strongly believes that any massage therapist who steps over the line to inappropriate touch should face the legal consequences."
“Honestly, they don’t really prepare you for that serious of a scenario," Kendra Simone, who operated Massage Envy spas until last year, told BuzzFeed.
BuzzFeed uncovered several shocking individual stories from women.
Susan Ingram told the site her breasts were groped by massage therapist James Deiter, who also put his fingers in her vagina. In 2016, he pleaded guilty to charges related to assaulting Ingram and eight other women.
An Oregon woman claimed in a complaint that a therapist put his entire fist in her vagina and ejaculated in her face. A Florida woman said in a lawsuit she pushed her therapist away when he licked her vagina.
Many of the women who have sued Massage Envy have been represented by Adam Horowitz. He said that many of the cases involve a male therapist putting his hand on a woman's vagina.
"In some cases, they suspend the therapist," Horowitz told NBC News. "Sometimes they end up at other franchises with a clean slate. In almost no instances does Massage Envy call the police when they get the report."
Massage Envy is owned by Roark Capital, the same private equity firm that also owns Arby's, Car's Jr. and other franchises. The franchise makes over $1.3 billion in sales each year.
Photo: Getty / Diane Macdonald