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Massage Heights sued over sexual assault allegation against masseuse

Massage chain sued

A massage parlor chain is facing a civil lawsuit from a client in Texas who says she was sexually assaulted by a masseuse in January 2016.

Massage Heights, which has franchise locations across the country, is being sued by the alleged victim who claims masseuse Tyler Chase White assaulted her during a massage in the company's massage parlor in the River Oaks neighborhood of Houston, Texas, CBS affiliate KHOU-TV reports.

Tahira Khan Merritt, an attorney for the alleged victim, told the station that Massage Heights failed to protect her client. The woman has also filed suit against White himself. 

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Tyler Chase White Handout / KHOU-TV

White has been indicted by a Harris County grand jury for felony sexual assault and his criminal case is ongoing. The civil case seeks damages from him and Massage Heights, alleging the assault was part of a pattern of negligence by parlor chains across the U.S.

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

BuzzFeed News reported this week that another chain, Massage Envy, and its franchisees face at least 180 civil suits from clients who allege sexual assault by masseuses.

Massage Heights has also been accused in the past of failing to appropriately address sexual assault claims. More than a dozen women have levied charges against the company and its franchisees in recent years, according to local news reports from around the country.

The company told KHOU it has a "zero tolerance policy against inappropriate behavior, including sexual misconduct."

"The massage therapist included in the recent civil lawsuit was previously employed by the former owner of this location in Houston, Texas," Massage Heights said in a statement. "[White]'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."