A female gymnast, who competed for the U.S. national team for three years earlier this decade, has filed suit in Chicago accusing the organization that runs the national team and others of allowing institutionalized sexual abuse of young athletes.
The woman, identified in the complaint only as being born in 1998, living in Texas and being on the national team from 2013 to 2016, filed the complaint Aug. 16 in Cook County Circuit Court against the International Federation of Gymnastics, USA Gymnastics, World Sport Chicago and Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University team doctor who pleaded guilty in January to sexual assault crimes earning him a sentence of 40-175 years in federal prison.
The gymnast’s complaint is a civil “action for declaratory, injunctive, equitable and monetary relief” based on alleged “acts, conducts and omissions” of the organizations and their employees “relating to sexual assault, abuse, molestation and nonconsensual sexual touching and harassment” by Nassar.
She said Nassar treated her from the fall of 2013 to the spring of 2015 “upon the instruction of the National Team coordinator, Marta Karolyi, and USAG trainer Debbie Van Horn.” She said he abused her at National Team camp, the 2014 national and world championships, as well as that year’s U.S. Secret Classic in Hoffman Estates, an event USAG sponsored along with World Sport Chicago.
Despite USAG’s assertions about athlete safety, specifically with regard to sexual misconduct, the gymnast said the organizations failed to protect athletes form Nassar even though “as early as 1997 … complaints were made” about Nassar’s treatment method at MSU.
The complaint details instances in which the organizations failed to react to reports of abuse, such as in 2015 when a coach overheard the plaintiff and two teammates discussing their experiences with Nassar. The coach allegedly reported the information to USAG Senior Vice President Rhonda Faehn, who “never followed up” on the abuse claims until visiting the plaintiff at her university in 2017.
The gymnast further said that although USAG, based in Indianapolis, dismissed Nassar in 2015, it failed to inform members or clubs of the abuse allegations and potential harm. She said the Indianapolis Star’s August and September 2016 investigative reporting of USAG and its alleged mishandling of abuse investigations — which preceded the criminal complaints that ultimately led to Nassar’s conviction — is how she learned of the institutional failings that inform her lawsuit.
She said the media reports showed the defendants “manipulated and misinformed victims, discouraged victims from taking further action with respect to the reporting and handling of sexual assault cases and failed to inform the victims of the allegations against” Nassar.
The complaint alleged the organizations failed to conduct adequate background checks, lacked proper policies for removing predatory physicians, didn’t adequately supervise Nassar, didn’t train athletes on how to avoid the risk of sexual abuse and failed to properly address complaints, among many other shortcomings.
In addition to a jury trial, the gymnast seeks at least $50,000 in damages for her claims of negligence, vicarious liability, express and implied agency, intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraud and misrepresentation against the organizations. The complaint also brings counts of assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraud and misrepresentation against Nassar, individually and as an agent of the organizations.
The gymnast is represented in the matter by attorneys Antonio Romanucci and Bhavani Raveendran, of the firm of Romanucci & Blandin LLC, of Chicago; and attorneys from the firms of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz, of Houston, and Hunt & Tuegel PLLC, of Waco, Texas.