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Massage therapists sue Grand Del Mar for sexual harassment

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Posted at 4:10 PM, Mar 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-02 15:51:19-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Two women who worked as massage therapists at the Grand Del Mar are suing the resort’s parent company, claiming the spa allowed them to be sexually harassed by male clients.

Christina Murphy and Madeline Flores made allegations this week of sexual harassment, failure to prevent harassment, wrongful termination, and retaliation against FHR GDM Hotel Management Company LLC.

The women’s claims involve two spa clients, Steve Hodsdon and Juan Pablo Mariscal, who the women say made inappropriate advances during scheduled massage appointments.

The Grand allowed clients to disregard protocols for keeping themselves covered and repeatedly exposed themselves to therapists, according to a court document filed by the women’s attorney. The male clients also made sexually suggestive comments and gestures and propositioned their therapists for sexual favors, the document said.

The legal complaint also details issues Flores and Murphy said they addressed to the spa’s lead massage therapist, manager, director, and human resources representative.

The Grand “ignored the complaints and tried to brush them under the rug to keep these male clients coming to the Spa,” the document reads.

Both Flores and Murphy used administrative channels to make complaints in Aug. 2018, filing sexual harassment complaints with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

On Feb. 26, 2019, Murphy and Flores amended their complaints to include a claim of construction discharge in violation of FEHA or wrongful termination, respectively, and the DFEH closed their cases.

The women say they suffered emotional distress, mental anguish, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shock, humiliation, and shame.

In a statement sent to 10News, Murphy said, "From the beginning, the Grand Del Mar makes it clear that as massage therapists, we should feel privileged to work on such high-end clientele. This creates a power differential where the guests have all the power and the therapists are powerless to challenge inappropriate conduct. The sexual intimidation by these male clients caused me so much fear – fear of what these men were capable of and fear of retaliation by the Grand for reporting them. But I had to speak up to protect myself and my coworkers. When it became obvious that the Grand was not going to protect me, I did the only thing I knew would keep this from happening to me again – I quit."

Flores said in the same statement, "What happened to me and Christina never should have happened. The Grand should have taken action to stop this harassment the first time it received complaints about these men. But the Grand did nothing and we ultimately paid the price. The Grand made me feel unsafe at work when they were supposed to be the ones to protect me. This was a profession that I went to school for and that I loved, and now, I have lost my passion for it. I was scared to come forward but ultimately, I felt I had to come forward because I do not want what happened to me to happen to other massage therapists."

Their attorney, Alreen Haeggquist, with Haeggquist & Eck, LLP said, “The law is simple and straightforward: an employer has a duty to protect its employees from harassment. But in the face of multiple detailed complaints by its female massage therapists over a period of years, the Grand has chosen to instead protect the perpetrators. The Grand has made a clear choice: the tens of thousands of dollars its predatory male clients spend at the Hotel is far more important than the safety of its female employees. For the right amount of money, the Grand will ignore clients who remove all draping, grind on the massage table, expose their erect penises and ask its therapists for prostate massages. Over the past few years, the Grand has refused to accept any responsibility for its systemic failures. They have had multiple opportunities to do the right thing and protect their female massage therapists – and time after time, they’ve failed to do so. Well, time’s up.”

The plaintiffs believe no fewer than six massage therapists may have been victimized, the court document says.

The hotel responded in a statement of its own, "Fairmont Grand Del Mar acts diligently to investigate employee complaints and is confident that there was no wrongdoing by the hotel in connection with this matter. The safety of our guests and our colleagues is a top priority and providing a healthy work environment remains paramount. As this matter is currently in litigation we are not able to further comment."

10News attempted to speak with Hodsdon and Mariscal and were turned around at the gate to their neighborhood. 10News also attempted to contact Hodsdon at his workplace and he was not there.