A lawyer for a woman who claims she was sexually abused at Massage Envy in Boca Raton says in a new lawsuit that the problem isn't limited to that location - it's widespread across the chain.
Adam Horowitz, an advocate and attorney for survivors of sexual abuse, has filed a new lawsuit against the Boca Raton location claiming damages in the amount of $15,000. In the complaint, Horowitz alleges that the company "fosters an environment conducive to sexual misconduct by its massage therapists who can commit sexual misconduct without the risk that law enforcement will be notified by their employer."
Massage Envy released a statement saying they take every allegation of inappropriate conduct very seriously.
"We have a Code of Conduct and Zero Tolerance Policy to ensure guests have a safe and professional experience when they visit our franchises," the statement said. "The therapist at issue is no longer employed by the franchisee."
Horowitz says his client went to a Massage Envy franchise at 7050 West Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton in December of 2014 for a 90 minute massage.
According to a police report, Raymond Smith Jr., a male massage therapist, was massaging the woman's legs and eventually began touching her inappropriately but did not digitally penetrate her. The victim stated that she did not wish to be touched there. He apologized, but continued making lewd, sexual comments about her body, the report says.
"He went all the way up to the top of my leg and he started to stroke my vagina... at which point I said stop and he stopped and apologized," said the victim, who is not revealing her identity. "He then started to make all these statements about how great my legs were and how soft my feet were."
According to the complaint in the lawsuit, smith started to make vulgar sexual comments to the victim, leaving her mortified and in a state of shock. She said she ran out of the room and complained to a person at the front desk, the Palm Beach Sheriff's office and the Department of Health.
She was told by the company that Smith had been "let go" as a result.
"I can't go back and have a massage, I'm afraid," the victim said. "I froze, I was in complete shock."
According to an incident report from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, the massage therapist told investigators it was a "big accident," before requesting a lawyer.
Horowitz says Smith was the assistant manager and lead massage therapist at the Boca Raton location.
The case is now pending in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
Massage Envy says they have a "zero tolerance policy against inappropriate conduct" and that "all franchisees are instructed to notify local law enforcement, as relevant, related to alleged incidents and to fully cooperate with authorities during their investigation."
Horowitz alleges that the company's "Inappropriate Touch Procedure" does not go far enough to protect victims. The policy instructs franchise owners to take guests to a private room, let them recover and allow them to explain what happened and document what they say with a witness present.
Franchises are instructed not to "admit/deny/make any promise about the allegations other than the promise to investigate and take appropriate action." Horowitz's suit claims the only promise made to victims is that the franchise will complete a "Clinic Incident Report" and "email a copy to the Regional Developer and Corporate Office."
Horowitz goes on to say that the procedure lacks any specific instructions for franchises to notify law enforcement to ensure an interview of the victim, questioning of the alleged perpetrator, and the gathering of criminal evidence.
The lawsuit also alleges that Massage Envy's employee handbook states that "Only 4% of upset customers will tell you when there is a problem."
Horowitz says the entire brand has a problem, "We brought the lawsuit against Massage Envy and this particular franchise, because we noticed there's an industry-wide problem."
In a separate incident, a woman made similar claims in May of 2014 at a Coral Springs Massage Envy location.
The unidentified victim claimed her massage therapist, Michael Ster, began touching her breasts toward the end of a massage session, then mounted the massage table and sexually assaulted her.
Ster was suspended from work pending the investigation. It is unknown whether he has an attorney.
Horowitz said more women are falling victim to predators while in their most vulnerable state.
"Women go to receive massages for relaxation not for exploitation," he said.
"I just have no faith in that company, or quite frankly any other company," the victim added.