Suit against USA Gymnastics seeks help for abused gymnasts

Associated Press
Larry Nassar

Indianapolis – A new lawsuit seeks to protect potentially thousands of abused gymnasts who might not have known about a deadline for filing claims against USA Gymnastics in the embattled group’s ongoing bankruptcy.

USA Gymnastics filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in December in an effort to reach settlements in the dozens of sex-abuse lawsuits it faces and to avoid its potential demise at the hands of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

A federal lawsuit filed Monday in Indianapolis alleges the group knows or should know the identities of many abuse survivors who had not filed claims by Monday’s deadline in the bankruptcy case. The suit alleges those survivors include dozens identified in secret files the Indianapolis-based group kept on coaches accused of abusing athletes and other misconduct.

The complaint states that it was filed “to protect the claims of the hundreds, if not thousands more, discernible child and adult victims of the at least 50 coaches, officials, employees/agents, and volunteers of USA Gymnastics who were sexually violated by someone other than Larry Nassar” while involved in USA Gymnastics facilities or events.

Nassar, a former sports doctor , was sentenced to decades to prison for molesting girls and young women.

Jonathan Little, the Indianapolis attorney who filed the lawsuit, told The Indianapolis Star that USA Gymnastics must release those files, including 54 currently sealed in a Georgia lawsuit, to ensure that the victims have a right to seek compensation. The Indiana lawsuit seeks class-action status.

Little said that the two abuse victims named in his lawsuit are also identified in those files but they received no notice of the claims deadline by USA Gymnastics.

“The point is, this process can’t really be complete until all those kids are noticed and we know of some that weren’t,” Little said. “We’re filing so that those kids do not get left out. That’s our goal.”

USA Gymnastics said late Monday it was aware of the suit but had not been served with it.

“Pursuant to the bankruptcy process, USA Gymnastics provided notice of the claims bar date to anyone who it believed may wish to assert a claim against the organization,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Additionally, USA Gymnastics widely publicized the claims bar date notice, including on its website, Twitter account and through media outlets.”

USA Gymnastics pointed out Little has been a part of the bankruptcy proceedings and he was served with copies of the sexual abuse proof of claim forms on February 28.

“He filed the lawsuit on the claims bar date and references the date in the complaint,” the organization’s statement said. “Clearly, Mr. Little knew of the bar date, and we trust he advised his clients accordingly.”

The suit states “there are hundreds, likely thousands of victims of molestation by USA Gymnastics coaches, agents, officials, and employees who are known to USAG and who are completely unaware” of the bankruptcy claims deadline.

In addition to USA Gymnastics, the suit names as defendants the National Gymnastics Foundation, a separate nonprofit set up to support USA Gymnastics; a Georgia gym; and the gym and estate of former Indianapolis coach Marvin Sharp.

Sharp took his own life in 2015 after being arrested on child molestation and child pornography charges.

Little said the suit names Sharp’s estate and the Georgia gym because they were required, under USA Gymnastics rules, to have insurance coverage for sexual abuse claims. He said that directive from the U.S. Olympic Committee should have been a sign to gymnastics officials that there was a growing problem with abuse in Olympic sports.

Many of Nassar’s victims are already part of a $500 million settlement with Michigan State University , where he worked and taught while also serving as the USA Gymnastics team doctor.

The complaint states that the “limited funds of USA Gymnastics and its insurance carriers are the only relief available to named plaintiffs and the other members of the proposed class.”