PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Massage Envy enabled a worker to assault clients by issuing only a one-week suspension amid reports of his abuses, a woman claims in court.
Identifying herself by a pseudonym in the July 29 complaint against the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based massage chain, June Doe notes that her assault this past spring is part of a “national epidemic” of sexual assaults at various Massage Envy locations.
Indeed Massage Envy has faced allegations relating to more than 50 such incidents in 15 different states, according to Wednesday’s complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Courthouse News has reported on nearly a dozen such cases since 2010.
Doe says she went to the police on May 2, 2015, to report that she was sexually assaulted that day during a session at a Massage Envy in West Chester, Pa.
While Doe was lying on a massage table, naked but for the sheet covering her, massage therapist James Deiter allegedly “maneuvered [her] hand so that it was touching Deiter’s erect penis,” the complaint states.
“Deiter also touched the bare breasts of June Doe and placed his erect penis on the top of her head,” the complaint continues.
After inserting a finger in Doe’s vagina, he “wiggled it around … then asked June Doe how her body felt,” according to the complaint.
Deiter had allegedly engaged similarly with other Massage Envy clients in the past.
Doe says Massage Envy employees “unfathomably recommended Deiter to unknowing female customers after they knew he had already sexually assaulted at least one client at that location.” (Emphasis in original).
A different woman had complained that Deiter sexually assaulted her in January 2015, but the West Chester franchise merely reported the allegations to the main office in Arizona, according to the complaint.
Doe says Massage Envy opted to handle the matter “in house,” rather than report the assault to “the Pennsylvania Board of Massage Therapy, law enforcement or anyone for that matter.”
After the franchise owners and corporate heads “chose not to conduct any investigation whatsoever” into the January allegation, they “inexplicably” elected to merely suspend Deiter for one week, according to the complaint.
Doe says Deiter was subsequently “allowed to return to full duty thereafter with no restrictions concerning his access to female customers.”
Deiter also assaulted “several women” before the January incident, according to the complaint.
After Doe went to the police in May, Deiter spoke with a detective and “disclosed the identities and facts of multiple women he had assaulted at Massage Envy West Chester, including the plaintiff,” the complaint states.
Several news outlets reported this past May that Deiter, 63, was charged with felony aggravated indecent assault. One article describes court documents that say Deiter “admitted to the assault” and told investigators about his earlier suspension after he was accused of fondling a different woman.
Doe says the epidemic stems from Massage Envy’s “incomprehensible policy” of making franchisees conceal sexual-assault allegations against its massage therapists.
The company instructs franchisees to put anyone making a complaint in a private room and advises staffers to “avoid admitting to anything,” “sending [clients] out the door with only the promise to investigate” the matter internally, Doe claims.
Doe seeks damages for negligence, alleging that the spa put her in harm’s way by virtue of its “knowing acquiescence and silence” and its lack of a standard for reporting sexual assaults or limit the access of known “sexual predators.”
Massage Envy meanwhile denied that it is lenient on predators.
“Massage Envy has stringent policies in place to foster a zero tolerance culture at each franchised location when it comes to inappropriate conduct,” the company said in a statement through spokeswoman Karen Sung. “Our policies regarding reporting are extremely clear: all franchisees are required to comply with any applicable state and local reporting requirements. Failure to follow this specific policy, or any of our policies regarding inappropriate conduct can trigger significant consequences for the franchisee, including termination of the franchise agreement.”
In addition to Massage Envy Franchising, Doe’s complaint names as defendants two entities behind the West Chester location: Spa Dogs LLC and Roark Capital Group Inc.
The plaintiff is represented by Brian Kent of Laffey, Bucci and Kent. Specializing in sexual-abuse cases, Kent issued a call in a blog on the firm’s website “for victims to step forward and seek justice” in a blog on his firm’s website.
“It’s my experience that sexual predators often target multiple individuals,” he wrote. “I invite anyone who has been subjected to sexual assault by James Deiter to contact my office to discuss a criminal case and potentially a civil lawsuit.”
Kent filed a second lawsuit against the same defendants Friday on behalf of a different client, Jane Doe, whom Deiter allegedly assaulted in March.
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