Massage Heights sued over sexual assault allegation

A woman says a massage therapist at Massage Heights in River Oaks touched her inappropriately and filed a lawsuit Tuesday.

HOUSTON - A new civil lawsuit was filed Tuesday against the Massage Heights corporation after an alleged sex assault dating back to January 2016.

Tahira Khan Merritt represents the victim who is choosing to remain anonymous for now. 

The victim alleges on January 23, 2016, at the Massage Heights in River Oaks, she was sexually assaulted by her masseuse Tyler Chase White.

A Harris County Grand Jury indicted and charged White with felony sexual assault level 2. The criminal case against him is ongoing. But now the victim is seeking civil damages from both the Massage Heights corporation and the man who she says assaulted her.

The court filings cite a pattern of reckless negligence by massage parlors across the country. 

Earlier this week, Buzzfeed reported Massage Envy and its franchises mishandled or ignored more than 180 cases of sexual misconduct reported by customers.

Khan says Massage Heights did nothing to protect her client or women. She says another woman had previously reported a similar incident against the same masseuse, but no action was taken. 

She says places like this are putting women in danger.

"It's an industry where you have clients that are vulnerable," Merritt said. "You have some female clients that are in dimly lit rooms with no clothes, some partially clothed and you have someone that is touching you. Of course there are many very qualified and wonderful massage therapists, but there are others that use that position to prey on women and prey on them sexually."

Massage Heights released the following statement:

"Massage Heights Franchising has a zero tolerance policy against inappropriate behavior, including sexual misconduct, and our priority is to do everything possible to protect the thousands of members and guests our franchisees serve. The massage therapist included in the recent civil lawsuit was previously employed by the former owner of this location in Houston, Texas. The therapist’s employment was immediately suspended following the complaint of alleged sexual assault, and the former owner of this location encouraged the guest to contact local authorities and report the therapist to the Texas state board. The therapist’s employment was terminated upon his arrest by the local police.

"Massage Heights Franchising has very stringent policies and procedures in place to create a safe and secure environment in each and every retreat, which include only hiring massage therapists with current state-certified licenses, conducting annual criminal background checks for each therapist, ensuring therapists complete all mandatory training on safety procedures and sexual misconduct, and recurring training every year for therapists."

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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