A customer complained to the manager of the Massage Envy spa in Medford on March 3, 2021, after her therapist flung off the sheet covering her body and moved his hand up her leg until he touched her sexually, she said.
The manager acknowledged the complaint but took no action, she said.
Two days later, the same massage therapist allegedly raped another customer, who, police said, fled the massage table naked in her bid to escape.
Now the first woman is suing Massage Envy and its managers as well as the therapist, Gilberto DaSilva. She is alleging the company is negligent in hiring and supervising therapists and also is violating consumer protection laws by claiming its spas are safe. She is also suing DaSilva for assault and battery.
“What happened to me during the massage was awful and continues to affect my life negatively,” she told the Globe. “I informed management three different times over two days about what happened to me, asking that he be reprimanded or fired. They took absolutely no action. They continued to allow the perpetrator to have unfettered access to other women.”
Police declined to prosecute DaSilva in her case because they were already pursuing rape charges on behalf of the second woman.
When Medford police responded to the alleged assault on the second woman, on March 5, the managers didn’t inform the police that this was the second alleged assault in three days, according to Erica Brody, an attorney for the first woman.
“When people go to get a massage they deserve to feel safe,” Brody said. “The way Massage Envy responded to my client’s complaint was appalling and the fact that the massage board has taken no action against Massage Envy is outrageous.”
The spa was sued at least once before for alleged sexual misconduct, when a different person operated the franchise. In 2020, a man claimed a massage therapist there touched his penis.
DaSilva could not be reached for comment, but Bob McGovern, a spokesman for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which represents him, defended DaSilva.
“Mr. DaSilva is presumed innocent, and he has maintained his innocence from day one,” McGovern said. “We look forward to presenting his side of the story at trial. Since this is an open case, we can’t comment further.”
Neither the owner of the Medford franchise, Ajay Misra, nor managers at the spa, would comment, referring all questions to the company’s Arizona headquarters.
Massage Envy, one of the nation’s biggest spa companies with roughly 1,100 franchises, issued a statement saying that customer safety is a top priority.
“Massage Envy is committed to promoting a safe environment for members, guests and service providers,” read the statement. “We urge anyone who experiences anything other than a safe, quality massage to report it immediately to the franchised location so that it can be investigated.”
However, the company declined comment on the charges facing DaSilva, who is free on $2,500 bail awaiting trial in May. The company said officials “cannot comment on pending allegations or litigation involving any independently owned and operated franchised location.”
In court papers, a Middlesex County prosecutor described what happened to the second woman when she and her boyfriend went for massages on March 5, 2021.
“The table was warm and it felt good and the next thing she knew his fingers were inside of her,” the prosecutor wrote in her statement of the case. “The next thing she knew he was on top of her on the table pushing himself inside of her. ... She said all she knew was that she had to run out of the room naked. She said she ran out of the room and began screaming.”
According to the prosecutor’s statement of the case, DaSilva told his manager, “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. I don’t think she’s ever had a massage before,” according to the prosecutor, quoting the Medford police.
Neither the woman nor the DA’s office would comment on the case.
The Medford spa is currently licensed by the state’s Board of Registration of Massage Therapy, according to the state website. DaSilva was also licensed until August when his license expired and he did not renew it. A licensing board official told Brody, the attorney, that the agency placed restrictions on DaSilva’s license “related to an ongoing criminal matter. We will continue to monitor the situation, but at this time we are not taking any further action.”
In 2004, DaSilva was accused of sexually assaulting and harassing an employee when he ran a cleaning company. The criminal charges were eventually dropped, but the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination found in the employee’s favor and ordered him to pay $164,000.
“Massage employees are the only people, other than medical professionals, who have a semi-legitimate reason to have their hands on naked bodies,” said Boston attorney Carmen Durso, who has sued Massage Envy in sexual assault cases twice. “So naturally it attracts a lot of the wrong people, and the Board of Registration should be the first line of defense.”
According to lawyers who have sued Massage Envy spas across the country, sexual misconduct is a company-wide problem.
“Our firm alone — and we’re only one of many — we represented hundreds of women who have allegations against Massage Envy,” said Brian Kent, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who has worked on cases in Massachusetts. “We have an estimated 100 cases in California. In Florida, we have approximately 25 or 30.”
He alleged that the company’s policy was to avoid law enforcement and not report any incidents that might “hurt the brand.” He said the firm has hired a Chicago-based company called Redirect Risk to investigate assault allegations, but he said victims are reluctant to work with the company because they are afraid.
Massage Envy says it has a zero-tolerance policy, prohibiting any misconduct by customers or staff.
Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.