Massage Envy logo. Photo credit: NBC7 San Diego.

A lawsuit alleges that therapists at four separate Massage Envy locations, including Encinitas, sexually assaulted four women, their attorneys announced Thursday.

The suit, filed in San Mateo County court, accuses Massage Envy of negligently hiring and supervising the five accused therapists. In doing so, the company ignored the “known risk of assault they posed to customers” by allowing them to remain employed or transferring them to other franchise locations.

The plaintiffs also allege that the company has a policy of concealing sexual assault reports. Massage Envy does not require assault complaints to be reported to law enforcement or state massage therapy boards, according to the suit, and only conducted internal investigations of the reported incidents.

The attorneys announced the lawsuit the same day that Orange County prosecutors filed criminal charges against a massage therapist accused of sexually assaulting two women at a Massage Envy in Mission Viejo.

Russell Bernardino, also a licensed home health care provider, was additionally charged with raping a 77-year-old woman while serving as her caregiver. She lives in an Orange County retirement community.

Massage Envy declined to comment on the civil suit. Officials at the company, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., issued a statement about the company’s approach to safety.

“We cannot comment on pending litigation, but we believe we have established best-in-class practices to address the types of issues alleged in this lawsuit, with the help of the Massage Envy Safety Advisory Council – made up of leading experts – and our work with RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S,” the statement reads. “These and other concrete actions underscore our commitment to promoting a safe environment for members, guests and service providers at each of our nearly 1,200 franchise locations, and we will never stop working to have industry-leading safety policies.”

In addition to Encinitas, the lawsuit alleges the sexual assaults occurred across the state. The other named sites: Corona in Riverside County, Daly City, near San Francisco, and Cotati, a community in Sonoma County.

In the Encinitas case, a therapist allegedly ejaculated onto the victim as she lay undressed on a massage table. The suit states that the customer contacted the manager, who apologized to her and offered her a free massage.

“Employees who went to management were told not to complain, which sent a message to those speaking up that such conduct was acceptable,” plaintiffs’ attorney Elizabeth Graham said.

She compared the company’s alleged inaction concerning complaints at franchises to the “sex abuse scandals we’ve seen at the U.S. Gymnastics Association or even the Catholic Church.” She called it “unconscionable that such brazen client abuse would take place in just one Massage Envy franchise – let alone multiple locations across California.”

– City News Service

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