A national chain of massage spas reached a settlement that will require the company to change its policies nationwide to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island announced Wednesday.
Massage Envy was accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against individuals with disabilities who needed assistance transferring to and from massage and facial tables because of their disabilities, according to the settlement agreement.
An investigation revealed that a Massage Envy policy prohibited employees at all of its locations from providing transfer assistance for customers, the settlement agreement said. And customers were required to bring in a third-party, such as a friend, family member, or helper, for transfer assistance.
“The complaints alleged that such individuals were denied services or required to bring their own third-party to assist them with transferring,” the settlement agreement said.
The Arizona-based company could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The settlement was reached with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island and requires Massage Envy to develop new ADA policies at all of its locations across the United States.
“For more than thirty years, the Americans with Disabilities Act has made one thing emphatically clear: places of public accommodation have a duty to accommodate everyone, regardless of disability,” United States Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said in a statement. “When businesses open their doors to the public, they have an obligation to make their services accessible, and when they do not meet that obligation, we will act.”
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Settlement follows investigation into customer’s complaint
Under the settlement, the company will also end its policy of prohibiting staff from providing transfer assistance to individuals with disabilities. Massage Envy also agreed to report any future complaints and to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to “ensure ongoing compliance,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island said.
The investigation was initiated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island after receiving complaints alleging that Massage Envy locations had discriminated against people with disabilities.
In one complaint, an individual inquired about a massage membership at a Massage Envy franchised location in Providence, Rhode Island, in 2021 and was denied services due to her disabilities.
According to the settlement agreement, the individual told a manager that she needed assistance transferring to and from a massage table because of vision and mobility disabilities. But the individual was told she would need a third party to assist her and that company policy prohibited employees from providing transfer assistance.
As part of the settlement agreement, Massage Envy will pay $10,000 to the individual who was denied transfer assistance at the Providence location.
Discrimination on the basis of disability “in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of a public accommodation” is prohibited by the ADA, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The ADA also requires reasonable modifications in public accommodations to be made to policies, practices, and procedures when necessary, the settlement said.
Probe comes amid years of sexual assault allegations
Massage Envy, which has about 1,100 franchised locations in 49 states, has also been under scrutiny for years due to more than 100 sexual allegations against its franchisees and employees.
A BuzzFeed News investigation revealed that at least 180 people have filed sexual assault civil suits, police reports, or complaints to state boards against Massage Envy, its franchises and their employees.
The company previously told USA TODAY that the incidents were “heartbreaking” and said they occurred over 15 years among 125 million massages. An Arizona Republic investigation in 2021 showed that the allegations continue to follow the company despite policy changes.