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Tracking massage therapist complaints: 1 revoked license in 10 years

FOCUS investigates the system tracking complaints against licensed massage therapists in Kentucky as one man faces 7 lawsuits claiming he sexually assaulted clients.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Seven women say they were touched against their will. Seven civil suits and one criminal investigation all involve one massage therapist: Collin Stephenson.  WHAS spent months investigating the lawsuits and the system tracking the complaints.

In a written transcript of a 2016 deposition, a 55-year old traveling nurse was the first to accuse Stephenson of inappropriately touching her.

“Well, I tensed up. I was, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe his hands, fingers had gone over that far and under the drape,” she described the alleged incident that happened at a Massage Envy in Jeffersontown, Kentucky.  

She goes on to say, “I just felt so ugly and violated.”

She filed a civil suit and complaint with the Kentucky Board of Licensure for Massage Therapy in January 2016.

One month later, the board launched an investigation into Stephenson for that claim. That investigation ended in a settlement. Those documents, obtained by WHAS through an Open Records Request, show the board had “sufficient evidence to proceed with a complaint to seek revocation of his license.” The board wanted to “settle the issues in an expeditious manner,” so instead, they required him to pay a fine and agree to additional ethics training.

WHAS requested interviews with the board members of the Kentucky Board of Licensure for Massage Therapy for more than a month. A spokesperson for the board declined those requests. The board did release a statement that talked about laws and requirements but did not answer questions about their actions in the case against Stephenson. 

The public board meets monthly in Frankfort. WHAS attended the November meeting.

Charlie Watson, owner of the Louisville Massage School, Advanced Massage Therapeutics, was also in attendance. He had emailed the board with his concerns about Stephenson continuing to practice, and they told him to speak at this board meeting.

“Y’all know about this and you could do something about it,” he said to the board.

The board’s attorney, Chris Hunt, said there have been no formal complaints against Stephenson since the 2016 investigation: “If there’s evidence put in front of the board that something’s been done wrong, then the board can choose to act on that, but that hasn’t been done at this point.”

Kentucky law states the Board has the responsibility to investigate and even has the power to initiate civil and criminal proceedings.

The Board has seven people on it, all appointed by the governor, overseeing the 2,222 massage therapists in Kentucky. According to documents obtained from an Open Records Request, the board has revoked one license in ten years.

We wanted to learn more about the complaint process, and the responsibility of the businesses, and asked Board Chair, Brian Houillion after the November meeting.

Again, he deferred to the board’s attorney, Chris Hunt: “There can be a lot of reasons to revoke a license. So, obviously to get to the point if someone was proven to have committed sexual assault, I would imagine that would be a good reason to revoke someone’s license.”

If a massage therapist is investigated and the claim is settled, that won’t appear to a future employer looking up a license. “If disciplinary action were taken, that would show up. It would show up on the website, it would indicate that there was some sort of disciplinary action,” Hunt said.

Because there was no disciplinary action after the Massage Envy settlement, Stephenson continued to work as a massage therapist with a valid license.

In June, 2019, a woman made a report to LMPD alleging that Colin had touched her inappropriately while massaging her at the Spa inside Omni Hotel. No criminal charges have been filed. Five months after the initial report was filed, WHAS asked an LMPD spokesperson about the status of the case. That spokesperson replied the agency does not comment on investigations.

Charlie Watson is advocating for a change in the policy, suggesting a massage therapist’s license should be suspended during the investigation process: “If you suspend his license pending further investigation that would be more appropriate than saying there’s no disciplinary action taken.”

Stephenson no longer works at the OMNI and they are conducting their own internal investigation. They gave WHAS a statement:

We are concerned by the allegations about a former Omni employee, and we are conducting an internal investigation. Every job applicant at Omni who may have direct contact with guests is vetted by criminal background check before hiring, and each hire must complete thorough training. We are committed to the safety and security of all our guests.

According to civil lawsuits, he went from working at the OMNI to Therapeutic Touch. One of those suits alleges that Colin improperly touched another woman while at Therapeutic Touch. In Stephenson’s counterclaim, he denied the allegations and asserted that these suits are defamatory.

According to Kentucky law, the board has no control over massage businesses, only the therapists themselves. Civil suits show that Colin was fired from Massage Envy and the OMNI hotel, but records show none of those businesses made official complaints with the board.

“We would hope that they would file an official complaint with us to let us know but being a small board, we don’t necessarily receive that information, or they figure the problem is done. They’re done with the problem,” Houillion explained.

We tried reaching out to Stephenson on the phone and went to his last known address. We also called and emailed Stephenson’s attorney for the last couple of months with no response. At a hearing regarding these civil suits, Colin’s attorney declined to comment.  

The initial lawsuit involving Massage Envy and Colin Stephenson was settled. The nurse that filed that very first complaint was concerned back then that she wasn’t the only one. This is another excerpt from her 2016 deposition, “I may not be the only one it’s ever happened to. I may have been the only one strong enough or brave enough to say something.”

Since then, seven other women have filed civil suits. Stephenson has filed a counterclaim, denying the accusations.

“If the law doesn’t dictate what needs to happen, then change the law. There’s so many loopholes in the law right now that a lot of things are happening,” said Watson.

The board tells us they are following the letter of the law. Changing that law would require action from the Kentucky legislature. They’re back in session January 7.

RESOURCES:

LawsuitsEight woman have filed lawsuits against Stephenson. Seven of those are still in court.

Stephenson's response and counterclaim

Ky. Board of Licensure for Massage Therapy complaint and investigation 

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

Omni Hotel massage therapist accused of unwanted sexual touching

Massage therapist accused of sexual assault faced similar allegations at previous job, attorney says

2 more lawsuits filed against former Omni massage therapist

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Do you have a story you want our Focus team to investigate? Send an email to Focus@whas11.com.