Once every four years, the country’s best athletes compete against their counterparts from the rest of the world in the Summer Olympic Games. The 2016 games, which concluded on Sunday, August 21, were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The U.S. brought home 121 medals, the most of any country, including 12 medals in gymnastics. As the U.S. gymnasts were preparing for their winning performance in Brazil, however, an investigation suggested that the national governing body for gymnastics, USA Gymnastics, Inc., had failed to act on multiple reports of alleged sexual abuse by coaches. This has led to at least one lawsuit alleging negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention, as well as general negligence and various intentional torts. Doe v. USA Gymnastics, Inc., et al., No. ST13CV058RT, complaint (Ga. St. Ct., Effingham Co., Apr. 15, 2013).
Anti-discrimination statutes at the state and federal levels hold an employer liable for certain forms of harassment or abuse in the workplace if they knew about the issue but failed to take reasonable actions to remedy it. A similar principle of liability applies to tort claims like the ones made in the Doe case. The plaintiff alleged in their complaint that USA Gymnastics knew about the abuse of gymnasts by certain coaches but failed to do anything about it. The organization, according to the plaintiff, should therefore be liable for damages resulting from this abuse.
USA Gymnastics is a nonprofit organization that oversees competitive gymnastics at the national and international levels, subject to the rules and regulations of the International Gymnastics Federation and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Its most well-known role involves the selection of gymnasts to send to the Summer Olympic Games every four years, along with other international competitions. The U.S. women’s gymnastics team has been particularly successful in recent games. They won the team gold medal for overall performance in Rio this year and in London in 2012, as well as the team silver medal in Beijing in 2008 and in Athens in 2004.
The Olympic gymnastics teams draw from a pool of young gymnasts around the country, who compete in various events governed by USA Gymnastics. An investigation by the Indianapolis Star, published in early August 2016, found numerous instances in which USA Gymnastics allegedly failed to respond to reports of sexual abuse by gymnastics coaches. The Doe lawsuit arose from alleged sexual abuse by a coach who had been the subject of multiple reports spanning at least seven years. Two former officials reportedly stated in deposition testimony that the organization generally discounted such reports “unless they came directly from a victim or victim’s parent.”
The coach at the center of Doe is currently serving a 30-year sentence after pleading guilty to federal charges related to sexual exploitation of children in 2006. The parent of one of the victims filed suit against USA Gymnastics and the coach in 2013. Causes of action against the organization include general negligence, negligent hiring and supervision, failure to warn of a known danger, negligent misrepresentation, and violations of state law protecting “the rights of personal security and liberty.” Doe, complaint at 9, citing Ga. Code Ann. §§ 1-2-6(a)(1), (2).
At Phillips & Associates, our sexual harassment attorneys represent New York City employees, former employees, and job applicants, helping them assert their rights against sexual harassment and other unlawful employment practices. Contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a knowledgeable employee rights advocate.
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