Massage Envy sex assault lawsuit claims rise to 5 in N.J., 400 nationwide - NJ.com

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    Lawyers representing women across the country alleging they were sexually assaulted at Massage Envy franchises have added another New Jersey woman to their lawsuit – bringing the number of plaintiffs to five in the state.

    Nationwide, more than 400 allegations of sexual assault at the chain’s locations have been made in the last two years, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation said this week. The organization added the franchise to its 2019 Dirty Dozen List of contributors to sex exploitation “due to years of mishandling sexual harassment and assault cases.”

    The latest case of alleged assault at a New Jersey Massage Envy occurred in Short Hills, according to Stewart Ryan of the Philadelphia law firm Laffey, Bucci & Kent.

    The woman claims she was forcibly kissed and groped on Dec. 27, 2016 by a male therapist who asked, “How far can we go?”

    It’s the second claim of a sexual assault at that location, according to the complaint. The first alleged assault involved a different woman on Jan. 23, 2015, the lawsuit states.

    Other assaults in New Jersey are alleged to have occurred at franchises in Piscataway, Closter and Mays Landing.

    A spokesperson at Massage Envy’s corporate headquarters in Arizona said the company does not comment on pending legal matters but released a statement saying they support “the decision of any victim to report misconduct.”

    “Massage Envy is committed to promoting a safe environment for members, guests and service providers at each of our 1,200 franchise locations nationwide,” the statement said. “We urge anyone (who) experiences anything other than a safe, quality massage to report it immediately to the franchise location so that it can be investigated.”

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    All of the allegations involve male massage therapists who allegedly assaulted female customers.

    Stewart said his law firm is preparing to sue Massage Envy on behalf of victims in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Texas, Massachusetts and New Mexico.

    “We currently have 93 clients and the number grows almost daily,” Stewart said.

    Other suits have been filed by attorneys across the United States, bringing the number of plaintiffs into the hundreds.

    In January, a former Paterson woman now living in Florida claims she was assaulted at a Massage Envy in East Hollywood, California.

    A woman who claims she was assaulted at the Piscataway franchise spoke publicly on Monday during a conference at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in Washington D.C.

    “The closed door seemed so far away,” said the woman, identified in the New Jersey lawsuit as Jane Doe #1. “All I wanted to do was pass out. Frozen and confused and shocked and vulnerable, all I wanted to do was run.

    “And the last word out of the therapist’s mouth was,” she said, “‘Can I get a cash tip?’”

    Some of the New Jersey women who have alleged assaults said they reported the incidents to franchise workers or managers but nothing happened.

    “In our lawsuits we allege that Massage Envy knew about the problem of sexual assault (and), beyond simply doing nothing, in fact discouraged reporting to police and other authorities,” Stewart said.

    The attorneys cited wording in contracts they claim Massage Envy clients are required to sign beforehand: “At no time shall you have a right (to) assert or bring any claim, demand, or legal action against (Massage Envy) or any of its affiliates.”

    Last year, New Jersey permanently revoked the license of a Massage Envy therapist accused of inappropriate conduct at two locations in Monmouth County.

    Massage Envy’s statement said the company “require its franchisees to supply any guest who claims to be a victim of sexual misconduct with the contact information of local law enforcement and the state (massage therapy) board.”

    “It is our policy to respect the victim’s privacy and the victim’s right to decide whether they would like to report to law enforcement, the state board, or anyone else,” the statement said. “We do require franchisees to report to law enforcement when required by law.”

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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