July 28, 2010 -- A Pennsylvania woman has filed suit against the CEO of a non-profit children's therapy services company, alleging that he sexually assaulted her during hypnosis sessions on his "magic couch" and then fired her in retaliation for speaking out.
Susan Patroski is seeking $5 million in damages for what she claimed were repeated sexual assaults between December 2008 and December 2009, during what, she said, Pressley Ridge CEO B. Scott Finnell described as employee-mandated relaxation sessions.
"I kept thinking this can't be. He's my friend," Patroski said today. "Friends don't molest friends. They just don't."
Click here to read the lawsuit filed against Pressley Ridge and CEO B. Scott Finnell.
Patroski, who worked as the company's human resources coordinator for two years, said she willingly submitted to what she thought were relaxation sessions that were going to be used to make a CD as part of an employee-wellness program.
But, according to the lawsuit filed last week, Finnell, a licensed social worker, would allegedly hypnotize Patroski against her will during the closed-door sessions on what, she said, he called his "magic couch."
"Finnell stroked Patroski's breasts and repeatedly brought her to orgasm," court documents claimed, "using the hypnotic suggestion that he would slowly count to five and when he reached five she would experience a rush of pleasure."
Finnell, now the subject of a police investigation, the lawsuit alleged, could not be reached for comment. Pressley Ridge executive vice president and chief operating officer Susanne Cole denied the allegations in Patroski's lawsuit.
"An independent investigation was conducted and as a result of that investigation we are completely confident that neither Pressley Ridge nor any Pressley Ridge executive acted inappropriately," Cole said. "And we intend to vigorously defend this case."
Pressley Ridge, headquartered near Pittsburgh, provides therapy and developmental and educational services to troubled children. It has offices in seven states and the District of Columbia.
Patroski may be one of several women to be hypnotized by Finnell, according to the lawsuit, although she told ABCNews.com that she doesn't know how many, if any, were sexually assaulted.
"I want him stopped," she said. "That's what I want. I could have gone away just quietly and just not said anything to anybody.
"I don't ever want someone else to have to go through this and to think to myself ... I could have done something to stop this and I didn't."
What's worse, she said, she remembers being posed and hearing "clicking noises," leading her to believe she was photographed. Patroski said she remembers that she wasn't naked, but also not fully clothed.
"My biggest concern is that if he took pictures, what did he do with them?" she said. "Who's seen them, where are they?"
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Patroski said she started remembering bits and pieces of the sessions about a year after they started. She attempted several times to discuss what she had remembered with Finnell, she said, but was continuously brushed off.
Eventually, she began sharing her story with others. Finnell discovered that Patroski had been discussing their sessions and she was demoted after refusing to resign, according to the lawsuit.
Then, in June, she was fired from her job two days after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Patroski's attorney, Violet Grayson, said that she was allowed to see a copy of a 10-page report prepared after the internal investigation in which Finnell admitted to the relaxation sessions, but denied using hypnosis or that he sexually assaulted any of the employees.
She questioned the thoroughness of the investigation and suggested the report was something of a "cover up."
The lawsuit, Grayson said, was filed the day after she flew from New York to Pennsylvania to view the report, which she was not allowed a copy.
Finnell is the subject of a police investigation, according to the lawsuit. The McCandless Police Department chief did not return messages seeking comment, but Patroski said she has been questioned by police for a total of six or seven hours.
No charges have been filed.
Grayson said they were seeking the $5 million in damages, in large part because of the huge emotional toll on her client.
"I know what it's done to my family and how it's affected my kids and how it's affected my husband," Patroski said.
Patroski said that when she began this process, she was never out to hurt Pressley Ridge.
"I really enjoyed my job," she said. "I really enjoyed the company."