Alleged sex assaults spur Massage Envy suit

Calling sexual assaults by Massage Envy therapists “a national epidemic,” two attorneys have sued the local and national owners of the Massage Envy spa in West Goshen that employed a man who is charged with assaulting nine women.

Attorneys Thomas Bellwoar of West Chester and Brian D. Kent of Philadelphia filed the lawsuit on July 31 in Philadelphia County Court on behalf of Jane Doe, alleging that identifying their client would further invade her privacy. The suit claims the chain had “an incomprehensible policy” of handling allegations of sexual assault in-house, thereby facilitating such assaults.

The suit said more than 50 reports of sexual assaults by the chain’s employees have occurred in 15 states. Spa Dogs, the company that owns and operates the Massage Envy location in West Goshen Township, and Roark Capital of Atlanta, Ga., the corporate owners, both share blame for the assaults committed by James R. Deiter, 63, of Holtwood in Lancaster County, according to the suit.

The suit alleged that many of the assaults occurred after the local and national company knew that a complaint had been lodged against Deiter, who continued to work after a one-week suspension and was routinely recommended by Massage Envy staffers to female clients.

In addition, the suit accused the company of conducting sham investigations that permitted abusers to remain on the job. The complaint seeks more than $50,000 in damages for the woman.

According to court records, Deiter agreed to be interviewed by West Goshen detectives after one woman he allegedly assaulted contacted police. Detectives said Deiter admitted the conduct and provided investigators with the names of other women he had touched inappropriately at the West Goshen Massage Envy, which is located in the 1100 block of West Chester Pike.

Last month, Deiter waived his preliminary hearing in the first case as well as two others. Detectives said additional charges were filed after police interviewed seven other women, who were allegedly assaulted from the summer of 2014 to May 2015. A ninth victim is represented in a third criminal complaint, which was filed on June 11, court records said.

According to the complaints, in all but one of the cases, Deiter established a level of trust with the women in sessions that preceded the assaults. Prosecutors said he had worked at Massage Envy for about a year and also provided massage therapy at Pathways to Healing in Lancaster County.

At the time that Deiter waived his preliminary hearings, his attorney, Peter E. Kratsa, said he and his client would continue to cooperate with authorities.

In a statement in response to an inquiry after Deiter’s second arrest, Massage Envy said: ""Massage Envy has stringent policies in place to foster a zero tolerance culture at each franchised location when it comes to inappropriate conduct. Our policies regarding reporting are extremely clear: All franchisees are required to comply with any applicable state and local reporting requirements. Failure to follow this specific policy, or any of our policies regarding inappropriate conduct can trigger significant consequences for the franchisee, including termination of the franchise agreement.”

In response to a follow-up question about whether any franchise agreements had ever been terminated, a company spokesperson said they have been.


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