Judge grants motion for D.C. civil case against Massage Envy LLC to go to arbitration

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - D.C. Superior Court Judge Florence Pan granted a motion filed by Massage Envy, LLC, to have the civil case against them go to arbitration.

Northwest D.C. lawfirm, Cohen & Cohen, filed a lawsuit back in 2017 on behalf of their client, Tara Woodley, in the hopes that the case would be heard in open court in D.C.

Woodley came forward as the Jane Doe in the lawsuit in November, accusing a former massage therapist, Habtamu Gebreselassie, of sexually assaulting her during a massage at the Tenleytown location.

Gebreselassie was sentenced to five years in prison earlier this year for sexually assaulting three customers, including Woodley.

On Friday, a motions hearing focused on language in the contract that Woodley signed before receiving the massage with Gebreselassie.

Woodley's attorneys argued that the arbitration language was buried in the contract, but Judge Pan granted the motion for the case to go to arbitration, saying Woodley signed that contract.

DCW50 spoke with D.C. attorney and Managing Partner with Webster Book LLP, Aaron Book, who is not affiliated with the case but has represented clients in similar cases.

"It's very difficult to win," he says. "A judge is going to look at that and say you signed this so you are presumed to have read and understood every term in that contract, whether you actually read and understood it doesn't always matter."

He says arbitration avoids court costs but it is not always beneficial.

"You give up the right to a jury, you give up the right to file motions like you would in court, you give up a lot of rights you would have if you went through the court system."

Attorneys for Cohen & Cohen have not said whether or not they will appeal Friday's ruling.

Massage Envy LLC will still have to litigate against their other client, Charlene March.

The civil case against Massage Envy D.C., the local franchise, and Gebreselassie will continue in D.C. Superior Court.

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