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Elite Chicago Area Ironman Triathlete Files Civil Lawsuit Against Massage Envy After She Was Sexually Assaulted During a Therapeutic Massage

Christine Schirtzinger running an ironman

Levin & Perconti and Griffin, Williams, McMahon & Walsh Files Complaint Alleging it was a Preventable Attack Claiming Massage Envy Ignored the Massage Therapist’s Criminal Past Putting the Victim and Other Patrons at Risk

Chicago, Il. December 1, 2022 Christine Schirtzinger, 51, a mother of four from Geneva, Illinois filed a 37 count civil lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court Wednesday alleging if Massage Envy in Geneva had conducted a proper background check and provided adequate supervision and training, she would not have been sexually assaulted by a massage therapist there. The complaint filed by Levin & Perconti and Griffin, Williams, McMahon & Walsh alleges the massage therapist had a criminal past. Schirtzinger was sexually assaulted while undergoing a therapeutic massage. Defendants in the lawsuit are Massage Envy, massage therapist James “Rob” Garrett, and the franchise owner and manager at Massage Envy Geneva Commons. Garrett pled guilty to a sex charge stemming from the incident in March 2022.

Christine Schirtzinger
Christine Schirtzinger

According to the complaint, before he applied to work at Massage Envy located at 116 Commons Drive in Geneva, Garret had a criminal past that included a felony guilty plea for theft. A public record detailing Garrett’s involvement with law enforcement indicates that he was an alleged offender involving a sex offense in 2006. A redacted police report from the Sycamore Police Department matching the date of those allegations indicates that a minor reported being sexually abused by an adult. 

As an elite Ironman triathlete, Schirtzinger relied on massage therapy to enable her to continue training and competing. Garrett was known for working with high performance athletes. Schirtzinger had received massages from him in the past without anything improper occurring. But according to the complaint, that changed on December 12, 2020 when Garrett violated Schirtzinger with his fingers three times in quick succession while giving her a massage. She immediately told him to stop and reported the sexual assault to the Geneva Police Department.

Garrett was charged with multiple felonies related to the sexual assault, pled guilty to a reduced misdemeanor sexual charge and was placed on 24 months sex offender probation, ordered to undergo an alcohol and drug evaluation, and prohibited from massage therapy work. Following his guilty plea, Garrett was required to register as a sex offender in Illinois.

“I only agreed to the plea deal on a lesser charge because I thought this was a first time offense. When I later found out about his criminal past, I was outraged. Massage Envy violated my trust by putting me alone in a room in my underwear in a highly vulnerable position with a convicted felon with a questionable past,” Schirtzinger said. “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.”

“Massage Envy must be held accountable as well as the massage therapist because this was 100 percent preventable. Had Massage Envy done a proper background check, Garrett would not have been hired as a massage therapist. Had Massage Envy supervised their employees closely, Garrett’s improper conduct would have been detected and Christine would not have been assaulted,” said Margaret Battersby Black, Levin & Perconti managing partner. “Since massage is such an intimate service, Massage Envy and others in the industry have an even greater responsibility to make sure their patrons are safe and that their massage therapists are performing their duties in a professional manner. We have since learned that Garrett inappropriately touched at least one other patron as well.”

Battersby Black-Margaret headshot
Margaret Battersby Black

”Despite his guilty plea in March of 2022 and being a registered sex offender, Garrett continued to hold a massage therapy license in the State of Illinois for seven months following his conviction. The state did not revoke his license until November.

“It is unconscionable that the state of Illinois was so slow to act on this. That put more women at risk,” said Schirtzinger. “Too often women suffer in silence and never say anything. I understand because it is embarrassing and painful to talk about. But as long as we remain silent, things will not change and people will continue to be victimized. This is why I am speaking publicly about what happened to me.”

The Massage Envy franchise network is the largest provider of therapeutic massages and skin care in the U.S. According to the complaint, Massage Envy has been confronted with hundreds of complaints, police reports, and lawsuits by women nationwide who have experienced sexual misconduct during massages at Massage Envy facilities. The civil lawsuit was filed under the Gender Violence Act.

Margaret Battersby Black on CBS Chicago News
Margaret Battersby Black ABC News

About Levin & Perconti 

Levin & Perconti is a nationally renowned law firm committed to protecting and vindicating the rights of people who have been injured due to systemic flaws and corporations choosing profits over people. Levin & Perconti has been advocating for vulnerable populations for more than 30 years.The firm concentrates on all types of personal injury, medical malpractice, nursing home, and wrongful death litigation.

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Steven M Levin

Steven M. Levin

Founder and Senior Partner
Since 1976, Steve Levin has been dedicated to helping people injured by others’ negligence. He is one of the first attorneys in the U.S. to prosecute nursing homes for abuse and negligence. He's also helped write new legislation that governs the operation of nursing homes, including the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act. Moreover, Levin & Perconti has obtained the top three jury verdicts in nursing home negligence cases in Illinois.