Last September, a Massage Envy client showed up for a 6 p.m. appointment at the spa's Aventura location. But midway through the session, the woman says, her massage therapist crossed a line: Christian Ramirez massaged her buttocks, placed his fist in the area of her vagina, and touched her breasts.
With tears in her eyes, the woman says, she got dressed and sought refuge in her car. Then, as she sat in the parking lot, she called the front desk to complain. Instead of taking immediate action, however, a Massage Envy manager defended the employee's "technique," the client says.
The woman's accusations are part of a new lawsuit against Massage Envy filed in Miami-Dade circuit court May 18. The suit is the third case involving allegations of sexual assault by massage therapists at the Aventura location since 2013.
"I think in this instance, the fact that there are three lawsuits against this particular facility is evidence that there is a problem," says the woman's attorney, Ellen Novoseletsky.
A Massage Envy spokesperson declined to comment on the case, citing the pending litigation, but said Ramirez is no longer employed by the company.
The spa chain came under fire last fall after BuzzFeed reporter Katie Baker published an explosive investigation showing at least 180 women had reported sexual assaults at Massage Envy locations. New Times also discovered the company had a history of blaming victims for their own assaults when they sued. In December, Massage Envy announced several major changes to its policies and procedures involving how sexual assaults are handled.
The newest lawsuit against the Aventura location involves an incident that preceded those changes. In her complaint, the woman says the spa's manager, Jennifer Hibbert, attempted to "buy her off" with two gift cards, an offer she declined. She says Hibbert then tried to shirk responsibility by telling her she had signed a release giving the massage therapist permission "to touch her everywhere."
The case is eerily similar to two others documented in Miami-Dade court records. In 2013, a client sued after her massage therapist, Manuel Rosich, touched her breasts and forcibly inserted his fingers
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Another suit was filed against the same location in 2015 by a woman who says massage therapist David Gonzalez penetrated her with his fingers, squeezed her nipples, and tried to kiss her. The woman reported the incident to police and sought treatment at a crisis center, which found Gonzalez's DNA on her nipple, although it's unclear from court records if he was arrested. Her civil action also remains pending.
In the most recent lawsuit, attorney Novoseletsky argues the Aventura spa had a permissive attitude toward sexual misbehavior that emboldened employees to abuse the client relationship. In fact, the complaint says that in a prior lawsuit, a Massage Envy employee testified that one of his co-workers had sex with a client multiple times and that there was a certain massage room that was known as the best place to have sex.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, Novoseletsky says she hopes more people will believe women when they report incidents of sexual assault and violence.
"If you would just take them seriously and acknowledge that something happened here, maybe they wouldn't go to these lengths," she says. "Certainly, I wouldn't think every single Massage Envy has a problem, but this one, there is evidence that there is."