November 27, 2017

West Chester Massage Envy spa faces sexual assault lawsuit from customers

More than 180 women nationwide have reported misconduct and molestation by the franchise's massage therapists

The Massage Envy off West Chester Pike is one of the chain's more than 1,200 locations across the country. The Chester County location, like numerous others, now is the focus of a series of allegations by more than 180 women who have come forward claiming they were sexually assaulted at spas operated by the chain nationwide.

A new report from Buzzfeed features the story of a former customer at the West Chester Massage Envy location, Susan Ingram, who told spa employees she had been assaulted there by a massage therapist in 2015. Her assailant, James Deiter, later pleaded guilty to molesting not only Ingram but a total of nine women and was sentenced to at least 6 1/2 years in prison in 2016.

Buzzfeed’s investigation reveals the case against Deiter is not a one-off outlier for the chain, however.

Additionally, Ingram’s difficulty in reporting the incident to Massage Envy management doesn’t appear unique to the brand, either – the spa had deemed Ingram's story and the accounts of two other victims as not credible because the women refused to return to the spa to discuss the assaults.

The American Massage Therapy Association states it “strongly believes that any massage therapist who steps over the line to inappropriate touch should face the legal consequences” and that the police should be called if any claims are made. Additionally, various massage experts also say that reporting policies should be prominently displayed and independent consultants should be used if allegations occur. 

Buzzfeed reported Massage Envy does not take any of those precautions. Instead, the company tells franchisees to conduct an investigation on their own but offers little guidance on specific procedures.

Ingram’s civil lawsuit based on her experience at the West Chester location is scheduled for trial in January and could mark the first time Massage Envy Franchising has to face a sexual assault victim of one of its spas in open court.

Ingram and seven other women have brought lawsuits against the West Chester Massage Envy and to Massage Envy LLC, though the parent company argues it isn't liable for franchise clients’ sexual assault lawsuits. Ingram’s lawyers, however, argue that the company is responsible for how investigations are conducted and overseen.

In 2016 Ingram worked with Rep. Pat Meehan to introduce federal legislation requiring owners and employees of massage spas to report sexual assault allegations directly to the police. If passed, the bill also would require clearly displayed reporting policies in the spas.

Read the full report at Buzzfeed