News - Kane County

Woman sues Massage Envy over sexual assault at Geneva location

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A St. Charles woman is suing Massage Envy, saying the owner of the Geneva location failed to do a criminal background check of a worker who sexually assaulted her during a massage session.

Christine Schirtzinger filed the suit Wednesday in Cook County circuit court.

“Massage Envy violated my trust by putting me alone in a room in my underwear in a highly vulnerable position with a felon with a questionable past,” Schirtzinger said in a news release announcing the lawsuit. “Before I was assaulted, I assumed Massage Envy was a reputable place. That Massage Envy was so careless with my safety and the safety of other patrons is a huge betrayal.”

The suit also names the Massage Envy corporation, a manager of the Geneva franchise where the attack happened, and the therapist, James R. Garrett. It seeks unspecified punitive damages in excess of $50,000.

According to the lawsuit, company officials and the franchise owner should have known sexual assault by massage therapists was an issue for Massage Envy. The company has been confronted with “hundreds of complaints, police reports and lawsuits by women nationwide” about sexual misconduct at Massage Envy franchises, the suit said.

The suit said the corporation had developed a “no tolerance” policy regarding keeping clients covered with a drape and not touching breasts or genital areas.

Schirtzinger alleges the Geneva location’s operators never asked Garrett whether he had any felony convictions; failed to supervise him with clients; failed to follow policies; and failed to report sexual assault or abuse allegations to police, among other matters.

Schirtzinger received therapeutic massages from Garrett for four years to help her train and compete in Ironman triathlons, according to the lawsuit. On Dec. 12, 2020, he asked to work on her hip flexor muscles and, while doing so, put a hand underneath her underwear and assaulted her, the lawsuit alleges.

Schirtzinger reported it to Geneva police five days later, and in February 2021, Garrett was charged with 11 counts of criminal sexual assault, according to Kane County court records.

He pleaded guilty in March to a lesser charge of attempted criminal sexual abuse of a person unable to give consent. He was sentenced to 24 months of probation and placed on the state’s sex offender registry. In November, the state revoked his massage therapist license.

Schirtzinger said she would not have agreed to the plea deal had she known that Garrett had a felony conviction for theft and had been accused of sexually abusing a minor in 2006 in Sycamore.

“I only agreed to the plea deal on a lesser charge because I thought this was a first-time offense,” she said. “When I later found out about his criminal past, I was outraged.”

One of her lawyers said they believe Garrett inappropriately touched another client also.

A person who answered the phone at the Geneva location said the owner did not work there anymore and would not provide a phone number where he could be reached.

A written message has been left for the national company, which does not list a phone number on its website.