PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a federal lawsuit against a plastic surgery provider in the Seattle area over claims it misled patients and the public “through a multitude of unlawful, unfair and deceptive practices” by posting fake positive reviews online — and intimidating or bribing patients to remove negative reviews.
The lawsuit against Allure Esthetic and its owner, Dr. Javad Sajan, alleges that the company directed its employees to create fake email accounts in order to write and post fictitious positive reviews.
Allure also had more than 10,000 patients sign non-disclosure agreements before receiving treatment that restricted them from posting negative reviews online, the lawsuit alleges.
Allure threatened to sue patients if they refused to delete negative reviews, the lawsuit says. Other times, it offered patients cash and free services or products to take down negative reviews, according to the lawsuit.
“Threatening and bribing customers to prevent them from sharing the truth about their experience isn’t just wrong — it’s illegal,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Patients rely on reviews to determine if a healthcare provider is right for them, and using legal threats and bribes to manipulate those reviews is deceptive and harms Washingtonians.”
Allure performs surgical and non-surgical treatments ranging from Botox to gender-affirming procedures, the release said.
Allure didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. When called by an Associated Press reporter on Thursday, a person answering the phone for the company hung up three times.
From 2017 to 2019, Allure had patients sign non-disclosure agreements that required them to contact the company with any concerns instead of posting about it online in a negative review. Allure considered anything under four stars a negative review, according to the lawsuit.
Some patients said they weren’t informed of the agreement and didn’t know they had signed it, as it was given to them in a thick stack of pre-procedure paperwork that had to be completed before receiving treatment.
Victoria Hester said she made an appointment with Dr. Sajan in 2021 for a gender-affirming procedure based on positive reviews online. Speaking through tears at a news conference Friday alongside Ferguson, Hester said the appointment ended up causing “long-lasting trauma,” describing the doctor’s examination of her body as “demeaning.” Sajan refused to perform the procedure, Hester said.
“I wrote a negative review because of the way he scrutinized my body and humiliated me in his office,” Hester said. Soon after, Allure called and threatened legal action.
“I had never heard of signing this NDA. And I had never known that a practice would require this, to try to keep people from sharing their experience,” Hester said. “I posted my negative review because I wanted other transgender and gender nonconforming patients to be aware of what I experienced.”
Hester said the office also refused her request to be reimbursed for the $100 deposit she paid.
From 2017 to 2019, Allure had patients sign a pre-service non-disclosure agreement requiring them to agree to pay monetary damages if they refused to take down a negative review. The agreement also required patients to waive health privacy rights, stating they must allow the provider to include personal health information in responses to negative posts, the lawsuit alleges.
Allure updated the agreement’s language in 2019, but it still required patients to “reach a resolution” with the company instead of posting a negative review. The company used these “pre-service” NDAs until March 2022, according to the lawsuit.
Some patients who posted negative reviews were contacted by Allure with offers of cash or free services and products in exchange for removing their post. Patients who accepted the offer were then required to sign a second NDA obliging them to remove the review and refrain from posting negative reviews in the future, under threat of a $250,000 fine, the lawsuit alleges.
Allure began using this second “post-service” NDA in 2017. Ferguson said he believes the company is still using it.
Allure also directed employees to edit “before and after” photos to make the results of its procedures look more flattering, according to the lawsuit.
Ferguson filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.