This story has been updated.
Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast McKayla Maroney sued USA Gymnastics on Wednesday, alleging the Olympic sports organization sought to buy her silence with a confidential settlement agreement last year relating to her abuse by longtime women’s gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar.
The suit, filed in Los Angeles, also names Michigan State and the U.S. Olympic Committee as defendants, alleging they, along with USA Gymnastics, failed to respond to warning signs, permitting Nassar to abuse Maroney and others.
According to the lawsuit, Maroney and USA Gymnastics signed the agreement in December 2016, after Nassar had been arrested and incarcerated in Michigan, so the settlement did not leave further children at risk. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that USA Gymnastics agreed to pay Maroney $1.25 million and that Gloria Allred, the well-known attorney and women’s rights advocate, negotiated the deal on Maroney’s behalf.
USA Gymnastics responded Wednesday evening with a statement that asserted that Allred, not the Olympic sports organization, requested confidentiality.
“Contrary to reports, the concept of confidentiality was initiated by McKayla’s attorney, not USA Gymnastics. . . . Although USA Gymnastics is disappointed by today’s filing, we applaud McKayla and others who speak up against abusive behavior — including the despicable acts of Larry Nassar. We want to work together with McKayla and others to help encourage and empower athletes to speak up against abuse.”
Allred declined to comment Wednesday. In October, Maroney went public with accusations Nassar assaulted her for years, starting when she was 13, at events around the globe, including the 2012 Summer Games in London.
“The scariest night of my life happened when I was 15 years old,” Maroney wrote. “I had flown all day and night with the team to get to Tokyo. He’d given me a sleeping pill for the flight, and the next thing I know, I was all alone with him in his hotel room getting a ‘treatment.’ I thought I was going to die that night.”
USA Gymnastics has not sought to take back the settlement money it paid Maroney, according to her new attorney, John Manly, who said Wednesday’s lawsuit was part of a pre-emptive strike to try to prevent any attempted clawback.
“She wasn’t going to keep the secret anymore,” Manly said. “When that was signed, she had no idea what the scope or breadth of this was.”
Manly asserted that USA Gymnastics’ statement was misleading and that while the mediation was confidential, the settlement did not have to be.
Confidential settlement agreements between victims and organizations that employed their abusers are common, albeit controversial, practices that provide money for victims while allowing organizations to escape bad publicity.
“Confidentiality is not something that should be required in these settlement agreements, because the only way that we stop serial perpetrators and predators is by having the information known, so that public pressure can be put on organizations,” said Genie Harrison, a Los Angeles employment attorney who specializes in representing victims of sexual abuse, assault and harassment.
Manly alleged that the settlement agreement USA Gymnastics signed with Maroney is illegal in California, but the law to which he referred didn’t go into effect until Jan. 1 of this year, according to Harrison. If the settlement was signed in December 2016 as Maroney’s lawsuit claims, according to Harrison, it is probably legal.
In its statement, USA Gymnastics asserted the settlement agreement was legal, despite Manly’s assertions.
Accused by more than 140 women of assault, Nassar, 54, was sentenced to 60 years in prison this month for federal child pornography crimes. He also has pleaded guilty to several sex crimes in two counties in Michigan and will be sentenced for his state charges in separate hearings next month.
While the criminal proceedings against Nassar are coming to a close, Wednesday’s lawsuit could signal that the civil battles over who knew what about Nassar and when are far from over.
In an email, USOC spokesman Mark Jones said the organization had no knowledge of any confidential agreement regarding Nassar, and USOC officials were first made aware of the possibility Nassar had abused young gymnasts in the summer of 2015, when USA Gymnastics quietly fired Nassar after reporting him to the FBI.
USA Gymnastics officials have faced criticism for not informing Michigan State — which employed Nassar full time — that he was under criminal investigation in 2015. Michigan State officials have said they first became aware of Nassar’s abuse in August 2016, when a victim filed a complaint with university police, but other victims have alleged raising complaints to university officials about Nassar’s assaults as far back as 1997.