Massages

Jury awards $3.3 million to Massage Heights customer who was sexually assaulted in Woodlands – Houston Chronicle

Summary

Dozens of customers had been groped and sexually assaulted during massages at a storefront spa chain, lawyers said. It was time for someone to hold Massage Heights accountable for neglect of customers’ safety, they told a Harris County jury this week.

On Friday, the jurors responded. They awarded a customer $3.3 million in damages following a 2017 assault during a 90-minute session at a now-shuttered business in The Woodlands. The licensed therapist who provided the massage is serving…….

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Dozens of customers had been groped and sexually assaulted during massages at a storefront spa chain, lawyers said. It was time for someone to hold Massage Heights accountable for neglect of customers’ safety, they told a Harris County jury this week.

On Friday, the jurors responded. They awarded a customer $3.3 million in damages following a 2017 assault during a 90-minute session at a now-shuttered business in The Woodlands. The licensed therapist who provided the massage is serving an 18-year term in prison.

“Massage Heights Franchising knew its customers were getting raped and brutalized and chose to do nothing,” said attorney Anjali Nigam, who represents the Woodlands customer, a 53-year-old mother of three. “This verdict sends a signal that you must protect your customers from known dangers.”

A spokesperson for Massage Heights Franchising said, “ We respect the jury’s verdict and appreciate the time the jurors spent on this case. While we disagree with the jury’s assessment … we are very confident in our attorneys and look forward to the next phase of the legal process.”

The company’s statement said, “We will continue to do everything possible to equip our franchisees with tools and resources to keep guests and members safe.” It continued: “The safety and well-being of our guests is and always has been our highest priority and we take sexual misconduct very seriously.”

A Houston Chronicle investigation this year identified at least 24 reports that Massage Heights therapists across the U.S. had made sexual contact with clients since 2010, including at least nine accusations of unwanted contact at seven out of 24 franchises across the Houston area. Lawyers in the civil suit said they have documented more than 50 allegations of sexual misconduct at Massage Heights businesses across the U.S.

At another Massage Heights spa near the Texas Medical Center, a massage therapist faces trial in two back-to-back sexual assaults of customers. One of those customers, a Harris County elected official named Erica Davis, reached a monetary settlement with Massage Heights and the franchise. Legal agreements like these are typically private, but they do not indicate a company has admitted culpability.

The jury deliberated for about a day before finding Massage Heights culpable of gross negligence for failing to properly train and supervise an employee who is now incarcerated and failing to protect patrons like the woman who trusted the spa enough to pay to lie naked beneath sheets in a windowless room with one of its staffers.

The Houston Chronicle does not name victims of sexual assault.

On the witness stand, the spa chain’s cofounder and former CEO, Shane Evans, did not dispute the chain had received more than 50 reports of sexual contact with customers.

The Massage Heights therapist, Mario Rubio, was convicted by a Montgomery County jury of digitally penetrating the customer. The civil jury on Friday effectively confirmed the woman’s contention that the franchise owner, …….

Source: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/crime/article/Jury-to-decide-if-Massage-Heights-is-liable-for-16613115.php