Horowitz Law Files Lawsuit Against AWAY Spa at W South Beach

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Firm News, Massage Therapists

Away Spa W South Beach Horowitz Law

On December 15, 2023, Horowitz Law filed a sexual abuse lawsuit in the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court against 2201 Collins Fee, LLC d/b/a W South Beach in Miami, Florida. The lawsuit was filed after a message therapist allegedly sexually assault a 39-year-old male client at AWAY Spa located inside the W Hotel in Miami Beach. Salim Baghdadi, the massage therapist named in the initial complaint, has been a licensed massage therapist since July 2020 and had his license restricted in March 2022. The Plaintiff in the lawsuit is represented by sexual abuse attorneys Adam Horowitz and DeeDee Scheller of Horowitz Law in Fort Lauderdale.

Allegations in the Complaint Against Away Spa at the W Hotel in Miami Beach

On November 15, 2021, Plaintiff and his wife had a 90-minute couples massage followed by a 30-minute steam shower scheduled at Away Spa, located inside the W Hotel in South Beach. Massage therapist Salim Baghdadi was assigned to work on the Plaintiff while another therapist massaged the wife in the same room. During the massage, Baghdadi reportedly placed his hands underneath the draping and made skin-to-skin contact while massaging the Plaintiff’s inner thigh. The Plaintiff reported that Baghdadi repeatedly grazed the client’s testicles with the side of his hand and/or his wrist. Baghdadi then asked the client to flip over to lie face-up and he placed a towel over his eyes so that he was unable to observe Baghdadi’s movements.

While at the head of the table, Baghdadi is alleged to have repeatedly stretched his arms from the client’s shoulders until his hands reached his genital area. He told the Plaintiff that he was holding a lot of tension in his groin area and told him to “just relax.” Baghdadi reportedly rubbed his hands against the client’s testicles and grabbed his penis. The Complaint says he repeated this while standing at the foot of the table. The client allegedly pushed Baghdadi’s hand away approximately four times, to which his response was that was his “trouble area,” and resumed the inappropriate contact. Toward the end of the massage, the Complaint says the client noticed that Baghdadi reached his hand under the draping again to touch his penis and began masturbating the client aggressively for about two minutes, causing friction burns that needed medical attention.

In utter shock and disbelief, Plaintiff began to squirm away with Baghdadi’s hand still tugging on his genitals. Plaintiff and his wife heard Baghdadi moan and grunt while touching Plaintiff’s penis, according to the lawsuit. The couple proceeded to their steam shower as scheduled, where the Plaintiff reportedly noticed the raw skin in his groin area, prompting him to feel unbearable pain. Plaintiff described the incident to his wife, and the couple quickly dressed and reported the sexual assault to spa management, law enforcement, and the Department of Health Board of Massage Therapy. Plaintiff went to Baptist Health Express Care for medical treatment due to the friction burns.

The Violation Between a Massage Therapist and their Client

When clients schedule a massage, it is to decompress from the stresses of life. They trust that the massage therapists employed at the spa are carefully vetted and safe to engage with the public. It is unacceptable, immoral, and unlawful for any employee to touch a client in a sexual manner. Clients of massage therapists are placed in isolated, vulnerable settings where they can be subject to abuse by their massage therapists. Due to the potential for abuse that is inherent under those circumstances, massage therapists must possess good judgment and good moral character to practice massage therapy safely. Baghdadi’s alleged violation of the massage therapist-patient relationship indicates that he may lack the good moral character and judgment necessary to practice massage therapy. According to the Department of Health, Baghdadi willfully abused his position as a massage therapist by inappropriately touching and sexually violating men who trusted him to act professionally and within the boundaries of generally accepted massage therapy and treatment.

Factual Highlights

  • Baghdadi performed another couples massage later that same day, even after the abuse was reported. On March 28, 2022, the DOH ordered the Emergency Restriction of the license of massage therapist Salim Baghdadi, prohibiting his practice of massage therapy on male clients in the State of Florida.
  • On April 10, 2023, the Board of Massage Therapy recommended that the Florida Department of Health revoke Baghdadi’s license to practice massage therapy.
  • It is on record that at least two other employees of AWAY Spa expressed that Baghdadi made them uncomfortable.
  • The massage therapist who worked on the Plaintiff’s wife during the alleged abuse reported that she witnessed Baghdadi working on the Plaintiff’s groin area for an unusually long time. That same therapist reported to her boss that Baghdadi made her uncomfortable and spent too much time working on his male clients’ inner thigh area. She stated that she believed Baghdadi lifted a male client’s underwear and stuck his hands inside during another couple’s massage.

Attorney Adam Horowitz, who represents the victim in this case, said: “Massages are supposed to be a place for relaxation. It is an extraordinary breach of trust for any massage therapist to make unwanted sexual advances on a client who is seeking relaxation and the therapeutic benefits of massage.”

Counts 1 & 2: Negligent Hiring & Retention allegations

Plaintiff sought massage and spa services from Defendant AWAY Spa inside the W South Beach hotel in Miami, Florida, where he was treated by the alleged abuser, Salim Baghdadi. Defendant owed a duty to Plaintiff to use reasonable care to ensure his safety, care, and well-being while obtaining spa services.

  • Defendant failed to provide reasonable care and selection, assignment, and supervision of massage therapists and professionals, ensuring the safety of their patients.
  • Defendant breached this duty by failing to exercise reasonable care to protect Plaintiff from sexual misconduct and lewd and lascivious acts committed by its agent, Mr. Baghdadi. 
  • Defendant had an affirmative duty to exercise reasonable care to promote its patient’s best interests and to protect them from emotionally and sexually exploited conduct by their employees.
  • Defendant knew or should have known that their employee Baghdadi was unfit for the intimate duties assigned as a massage therapist, had a history that rendered him unsuitable to treat male clients and posed a risk of perpetrating unwanted sexual contact.
  • Defendant hired Mr. Baghdadi as a massage therapist without any limitations on his employment or adequate supervision and took no action to warn or otherwise affirmatively protect any of his clients>
  • Defendant knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that Mr. Baghdadi was unfit, dangerous, and/or a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of men entrusted to him for spa services.
  • Defendant hired Mr. Baghdadi and thereafter placed Plaintiff in a vulnerable position on the massage table in a darkened room without an assistance button with Mr. Baghdadi.
  • Prior to hiring Mr. Baghdadi, Defendant required him to submit to a pre-employment drug screening. Despite having failed a drug test during his pre-employment screening, Defendant hired Mr. Baghdadi and placed zero limitations on his employment, working with vulnerable clients in a state of undress.
  • After hiring Mr. Baghdadi but prior to the sexual misconduct perpetrated on Plaintiff, Defendant knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that Mr. Baghdadi was unfit for the intimate duties assigned, did not exhibit appropriate boundaries with male clients, had a history and/or temperament that rendered him unfit to be alone and in a position of trust with an unclothed male, was sexually inappropriate with clients, and/or posed a risk of perpetrating unwanted sexual contact.
  • Despite having such information, Defendant retained Mr. Baghdadi as a massage therapist without any limitations on his employment and took no action to warn or otherwise protect any of his male clients. 

Count 3: Negligent Supervision allegations

Defendant owed a duty to Plaintiff to use reasonable care to ensure his safety, care, and well-being while he was obtaining spa services. These duties encompassed the supervision of massage therapists whom it employed, such as Mr. Baghdadi. 

  • Defendant breached this duty by failing to exercise reasonable supervision and oversight to protect Plaintiff from sexual misconduct and lewd and lascivious acts committed by its agent, Mr. Baghdadi.
  • After hiring Mr. Baghdadi but prior to the sexual misconduct perpetrated on Plaintiff, Defendant knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that Mr. Baghdadi was unfit for the intimate duties assigned, did not exhibit appropriate boundaries with men, had a history and/or temperament that rendered him unfit to be alone and in a position of trust with an unclothed male, was sexually inappropriate with clients, and/or posed a risk of perpetrating unwanted sexual contact.
  • Despite having such information, Defendant retained Mr. Baghdadi as a massage therapist without any limitations on his employment, failed to provide adequate supervision and oversight of Mr. Baghdadi, and took no action to mitigate the risk of harm or otherwise protect any of his male clients.

Count 4: Negligent Policies & Protocols allegations

Defendant owed a duty to Plaintiff to use reasonable care to ensure his safety, care, and well-being while he was obtaining spa services.

  • Prior to Plaintiff’s massage appointment, Defendant knew that male massage therapists were committing sexual assault and/or engaging in sexual contact with male and female massage clients at extraordinary rates, and the high rate of sexual contact in the spa setting constitutes a dangerous condition of which its male and female clients, including Plaintiff, were unaware and which should have been disclosed by Defendant with instructions on how to prevent, be prepared for, and respond to such incidents.
  • Defendant had a duty to implement reasonable policies and procedures to protect its guests, particularly with respect to a person employed on Defendant’s premises, who was placed in a position of control over a vulnerable guest and was in a position to do intentional harm to that guest.
  • Defendant did not have reasonable policies and procedures in place to protect its guests from sexual misconduct by a person performing services at AWAY Spa – W South Beach.
  • Defendant failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that clients who received massages from male therapists were sufficiently warned of and protected from foreseeable harm and did not have adequate measures in place to deter foreseeable harm, such as panic/assistance buttons in the massage therapy rooms.
  • Defendant breached its duty of care by failing to create, implement, and establish policies and procedures to properly train employees to ensure the proper and safe conduct of massage therapists.

Count 5: Respondeat Superior/ Vicarious Liability allegations

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, the Defendant, AWAY Spa – W South Beach is responsible for the actions of its servant committed in the actual or apparent scope of his duties. 

  • Baghdadi was authorized and entrusted by Defendant to be alone with Plaintiff in a darkened room while Plaintiff was undressed and in a vulnerable position.
  • The sexual contact occurred on a massage table, on-premises, operated and/or controlled by Defendant
  • The sexual contact occurred during the normal business hours of Defendant and occurred in the course and scope of the performance of Mr. Baghdadi’s duties.
  • Mr. Baghdadi was authorized to touch Plaintiff via skin-to-skin contact. The alleged wrongful acts of Mr. Baghdadi were committed in the actual or apparent course and scope of his employment or agency with AWAY Spa W South Beach when Mr. Baghdadi extended and converted his authorized touching into sexual contact with Plaintiff.
  • The massage services provided by Mr. Baghdadi benefited AWAY Spa – W South Beach.
  • Mr. Baghdadi was aided in accomplishing the alleged sexual act upon Plaintiff by the existence of his agency relationship with AWAY Spa – W South Beach. Specifically, Mr. Baghdadi  is accused of using the authority delegated to him by his employer to make sexual contact with Plaintiff while he was undressed and lying in a prone, vulnerable position in a dark room seeking relaxation.

 

Horowitz Law has filed numerous sexual assault lawsuits against massage therapists on behalf of clients who were inappropriately touched at massage spas and resorts. If you have been a victim of sexual assault or sexual battery during a massage, or if you know someone who has, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an e-mail to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz for massage clients at [email protected] for a free consultation.