Gymnast McKayla Maroney filed suit Wednesday against the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, alleging that officials had her sign a confidential financial settlement to keep secret the sexual abuse she suffered as a teen by team doctor and confessed molester Larry Nassar.
In papers filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Maroney, a gold medalist and one of the nation’s best-known Olympic athletes, also accused the USOC of covering up its knowledge of Nassar’s misconduct as part of a “culture and atmosphere that conceals known and suspected sexual abusers.”
The USOC denied knowledge of the payout, which was made by USA Gymnastics. USA Gymnastics said the confidential provision in its settlement with Maroney was initiated by her attorney at the time, high-profile litigator Gloria Allred.
Maroney’s lawsuit, coupled with a similar, previously undisclosed lawsuit filed by her parents in June, renews the question of whether national sports officials systematically covered up Nassar’s years of misconduct. Revelations of secret settlements are already galvanizing Hollywood and other industries, where critics say they allow the legal silencing of sexual assault and harassment victims.
“This was an immoral and illegal attempt to silence a victim of child sexual abuse,” said Maroney’s current attorney, John Manly, who compared the secret payout to those received by victims of priest abuse in the Catholic Church.
In a statement, USA Gymnastics said Allred approached the organization to request a confidential mediation process. “Contrary to reports, the concept of confidentiality was initiated by McKayla’s attorney, not USA Gymnastics,” the organization said, adding that the settlement “was in accordance with state law, despite what has been alleged.”
“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,” the statement read.
Allred declined to comment when reached Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the USOC said the committee had not been made aware of the confidential settlement. “We are heartbroken that this abuse occurred, proud of the brave victims that have come forward and grateful that our criminal justice system has ensured that Nassar will never be able to harm another young woman,” USOC spokesman Mark Jones said in a statement.
Maroney, a Los Angeles County resident, said USA Gymnastics settled in return for her not publicly disclosing Nassar’s abuse. The documents do not disclose how much she was paid, but sources familiar with the settlement say Maroney received $1.25 million last winter.
Maroney, who is no longer represented by Allred, seeks to nullify the agreement.
Nassar pleaded guilty in November to sexually assaulting several female gymnasts and possessing child pornography. This month, a federal judge sentenced him to 60 years in prison for the pornography charge. He faces a possible life sentence for other charges. Though he was not charged with sexually abusing Maroney, she provided a victim impact statement before his sentencing.
“He abused my trust, he abused my body and he left scars on my psyche that may never go away,” Maroney said in that statement. “He needs to be behind bars so he will never prey upon another child.”
The complaint claims that for decades, the USOC has overlooked sexual abuse of minors. It cites a 1999 letter from then-USA Gymnastics President Robert Colarossi to USOC executives in which he said the committee’s policies on preventing abuse were “fundamentally flawed” and showed “an apparent indifference to the welfare of young children.”
Colarossi, who left USA Gymnastics in 2005, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Despite his warning, according to Maroney’s suit, the USOC took 11 years to create a program and handbook aimed at preventing access to minors by sexual abusers, and then “maintained its course and culture of ignoring abuse.”
Jones, the USOC spokesman, said that the committee was “first made aware of the possibility” that Nassar had sexually abused Olympic athletes in the summer of 2015 and that USA Gymnastics had said it was already in the process of contacting law enforcement authorities.
USA Gymnastics officials did not inform the FBI immediately of sexual abuse allegations concerning Nassar, Manly said, but hired their own investigator and waited five weeks.
Maroney’s suit also names as a defendant Michigan State University, where Nassar worked as a doctor. The complaint alleges that MSU received complaints from two female student athletes, including a women’s softball player, of improper touching by Nassar during medical treatment starting in the late 1990s. Despite this knowledge, the lawsuit claims, MSU allowed Nassar to treat minors affiliated with USA Gymnastics, including Maroney. A representative for MSU said it does not comment on ongoing litigation.
In the complaint, Maroney alleges that Nassar molested her “before, during and after trainings and competitions,” including before the World Gymnastics Championships in Tokyo in 2011, when she was 15.
Maroney said USA Gymnastics “coerced” her into signing the confidential settlement as she was still reeling from the sexual abuse and “in need of funds to pay for psychological treatment for her worsening psychological condition.” The lawsuit claims that the agreement included a “non-disparagement clause and confidentiality provision,” which could penalize her $100,000 if she spoke of the abuse or the settlement.
Manly contends that the settlement was illegal, as California law prohibits confidential civil agreements involving potential felony sex crimes.
During a May deposition, Manly repeatedly asked USA Gymnastics Chairman Paul Parilla about confidential settlements. “Have you settled cases involving U.S. national team members in California?” Manly asked, according to court records.
An attorney for USA Gymnastics objected to the questions, and Parilla — himself an Orange County lawyer — did not answer. Parilla did not respond to a message seeking comment for this article.
Wednesday’s filing revealed that Maroney’s parents used pseudonyms to sue USA Gymnastics and the USOC in June. Filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Manly and Allred, the lawsuit — which referred to Maroney only as an “elite, international gymnast” — alleged that USA Gymnastics “ignored and/or actively concealed the abuse” so it could maintain and grow its base of sponsors. That case is ongoing.
Maroney first alleged publicly that she was sexually abused by Nassar in a Twitter post in October, detailing his molestation of her from age 13 through 15.
“I know how hard it is to speak publicly about something so horrible, and so personal, because it's happened to me too,” Maroney said in the post, which included the hashtag #metoo, in reference to the public accusations of sexual assault and harassment that have emerged since the revelations about film mogul Harvey Weinstein.
USA Gymnastics has commended Maroney on multiple occasions for her “courage,” declaring in a statement that due to her and others’ “strength in coming forward, predators can be held accountable for their actions.” On Maroney’s birthday this month, the organization said it celebrated “not only the talent it took to deliver the best vaults in the world but also McKayla’s incredible bravery and strength to come forward.”