Two massage therapists are suing a esthetician/businesswoman with a celebrity clientele, alleging they were exposed to racial comments and sexual harassment in the workplace, not paid for all services performed and forced to do janitorial work.
The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed by Carla Morais and Shirlei Silva against Flavia Lanini and the West Hollywood-based Flavia Lanini Beauty Institute alleges discrimination and harassment based on color, sexual harassment, failure to prevent harassment, retaliation and various state Labor Code violations.
The plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in the suit brought Wednesday. An answering machine at Lanini’s business would not accept additional messages.
Lanini has established herself as a health and beauty expert with a Brazilian massage technique that has a slimming effect on the body and her clientele includes Kendall and Kris Jenner, Paris Hilton, English singer Dua Lipa, Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio and South African model Candice Swanepoel, the suit states.
Lanini markets her own beauty line of products that include body lotions which she sells at the Flavia Lanini Beauty Institute or online for about $100 a bottle, the suit states. While Lanini maintains her products contain luxury quality ingredients, the lotions actually are “nothing more than Nivea brand combined with other cheap, generic lotions that are filled into bottles by low-wage workers and sold as a luxury Flavia Lanini product at marked-up prices to celebrity and wealthy clientele,” the suit alleges.
Lanini says via her social media platform that she respects and recognizes beauty in all skin shades, but in the workplace she made derogatory comments about the plaintiffs for their dark skin color and stereotyped Blacks in general, saying “Black people literally stink,” the suit states.
Morais was hired in September 2019 as a massage therapist and Silva in February 2020 as a front desk assistant who later was converted to a massage therapist, the suit states.
Morais and Silva both were told they would be paid $50 per massage performed, but they also were required to do janitorial work during and outside business hours without compensation or rest and meal breaks, the suit states. Lanini also reported to the IRS that she paid the plaintiffs tens of thousands of dollars more than she actually paid them, the suit states.
“In fact, Ms. Lanini did not pay plaintiffs even minimum wage for their labor and she took their tips for herself,” the suit states.
Lanini also failed to protect the plaintiffs from sexually inappropriate conduct by its male clients during massage sessions, the suit states. In January 2020, Morais prepared to do a massage on a high-ranking Tesla Inc. executive and she repeatedly told Lanini that she felt “extremely uncomfortable in the presence of this client, due to his sexually inappropriate advances towards her,” the suit states.
Instead of taking action to protect Morais, Lanini disregarded her complaints and insisted that the plaintiff provide the massage to the client, the suit states. Morais proceeded with the massage and asked the client to undress, but leave on his underwear, the suit states.
“However, Morais was shocked to find the Tesla executive client completely naked with his genitals exposed,” he suit states.
Morais covered him with a sheet before asking him to lay down, but was “horrified” moments later when the client allegedly tried to get her to touch his private parts, the suit states.
When Morais subsequently complained to Lanini, the businesswoman was skeptical and said, “No one would even look at you, you’re poor and Black and he’s wealthy,” the suit alleges.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lanini told Morais and Silva to provide home services to clients, despite governmental stay-at-home ordinances, the suit states. They both acquiesced when threatened with being fired, according to the suit.
Morais and Silva were fired in July 2020 via a WhatsApp message while still owed payment for massages they performed, the suit states.