Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

Lawsuit: USA Gymnastics Paid to Keep Sexual Abuse Quiet

The allegations against former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar have been horrifying. Just going by what has been revealed through court documents, Nassar's sexual abuse of athletes and other children in his care, some as young as six years old, continued for at least 20 years and could have involved over 200 victims.

Now, the institutions that employed Nassar for decades are trying to distance themselves from his actions. But a new lawsuit, filed by Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney, claims Michigan State and the U.S. Olympic team bought victims' silence with settlements, including a nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements.

Mistreatment

"It started when I was 13 years old," Maroney claims, "at one of my first national team training camps in Texas, and it didn't end until I left the sport. It seemed whenever and wherever this man could find the chance, I was 'treated.' It happened in London before my team and I won the gold medal, and it happened before I won my silver."

"A simple fact is this," Maroney asserted. "If Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee had paid attention to any of the red flags in Larry Nassar's behavior I never would have met him, I never would have been 'treated' by him and I never would have been abused by him."

Maroney's lawsuit is challenging the confidentiality provisions of her settlement with the U.S. Olympic Committee, claiming the committee should've known victims child sexual abuse cannot be forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement as a condition of a settlement, and that such agreements are illegal.

Liability

At the same time, USA Gymnastics is battling a lawsuit involving 134 female athletes claiming Nassar had sexually abused female athletes over the course of decades. The organization is contending that the statute of limitations has expired in most instances, and also claims it was not required to notify Michigan State about allegations regarding Nassar after his firing in 2015. USAG attorney Andrew Portinga asserted the organization "would be liable only if it knew or should have known Nassar was assaulting gymnasts," which, given Maroney's disclosures, would be quite an admission of liability.

Additionally, newly released police documents show that Michigan State allowed Nassar to continue seeing patients while he was being investigated by campus police for criminal sexual conduct. Nassar was briefly suspended by the school during a Title IX investigation in May 2014, and was reinstated after the investigation concluded on July 30, but while the criminal investigation was ongoing.

While Nassar was supposed to modify his examinations "to be sure that there is little to no skin to skin contact when in these regions" and "have another person (resident, nurse, etc) in the room whenever we are approaching a patient to perform procedures of anything close to a sensitive area," those within the Michigan State Sports Medicine department had never heard of the guidelines and "at least twelve assaults have been reported that occurred after 7/30/14."

Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges this month, and still faces pending sexual assault charges.

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