After a 2014 appointment at Massage Envy turned into a sexual assault, a South Florida woman filed a report with the Coral Springs Police Department. But it wasn't until detectives began investigating that the woman learned she wasn't the massage therapist's first victim: According to police, Gabriel Mata had previously sexually battered another client.
Last week, the woman filed a lawsuit against Sturmex Enterprises, the franchise that owns the spa at 4360 N. State Rd. 7 in Coral Springs. Her complaint blames the company for failing to properly screen its employees and says the internal procedures discouraged management from reporting the incident to law enforcement.
"It's a total lack of institutional control, which went back up to the higherups," says the woman's attorney, Jamie Sasson. "What you have is a company that's completely turning a blind eye to this, even in their own manuals."
According to the suit, the woman was receiving a
Mata, who no longer works for Massage Envy, was eventually arrested and later pleaded to two reduced charges of felony battery. In May 2017, he was sentenced to a year in county jail and nine years of probation.
Details on the other incident involving Mata weren't immediately available, but according to court records, another Coral Springs Massage Envy employee was also accused of sexual assault in 2012. In that case, a woman says her massage therapist touched her vagina during an appointment. That lawsuit was eventually settled in 2015.
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Massage Envy headquarters declined to comment specifically on the new case but said in a statement that "there is nothing more important than safety in the treatment room." After a searing BuzzFeed investigation late last year, the company introduced a six-step plan to address its pervasive history of sexual assault claims.
"Our commitment to safety plan is further strengthening our policies and procedures, and we continue to work with victim advocates and outside experts like RAINN, a leading authority on preventing sexual assault and supporting victims," a Massage Envy spokesperson wrote to New Times.
While the new protocols were welcomed by employees and victims, many described the changes as too little, too late. Sasson, the attorney on the most recent Coral Springs case, says his client remains "totally traumatized" and continues to see a psychologist for treatment. But he says the surge of women speaking up about sexual assault encouraged his client to do the same.
"With the Me Too movement, more and more women are feeling empowered," Sasson says. "If she hadn't heard other women coming forward, she probably wouldn't have filed this complaint."