Olympic snowboarders accuse USOPC, national federation of sex trafficking in lawsuit
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the national governing body for snowboarding and the former national team snowboard coach conspired to engage in sex trafficking, enabling and covering up repeated acts of sexual misconduct, three former national team snowboarders claimed in a lawsuit Thursday.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges former coach Peter Foley committed sexual assault and battery against the plaintiffs and other women for “nearly twenty years” with the “assistance, permission and endorsement” of the USOPC and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard federation (USSS).
“The system is focused on money and medals,” said Sigrid McCawley, the lead attorney representing the three snowboarders. “It’s not focused on protecting these athletes.”
Rosey Fletcher, one of the plaintiffs, is a three-time Olympian who won a bronze medal in 2006. She said the federation needs to “re-establish that trust” so parents can send their children to national and international competitions confident that officials will look after the athletes rather than look the other way.
“The organization is broken,” Fletcher said.
A young badminton player told a friend she was forced by her coach to have sex. Nine years later, the investigation into the allegation has raised new questions about athlete safety.
The federation last October replaced longtime chief executive Gale “Tiger” Shaw, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The federation fired Foley last March, citing a workplace investigation that revealed a “toxic culture.” The dismissal came two days after the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which handles investigations into sexual abuse in national amateur sports, temporarily suspended Foley. The SafeSport investigation is “ongoing,” McCawley said, and the SafeSport website still lists Foley as temporarily suspended.
“Any allegations of sexual misconduct being made against him are false,” Howard Jacobs, the attorney for Foley, told ESPN at the time.
Jacobs and a USOC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
In a statement, USSS said the organization first became aware of allegations against Foley in February 2022 and immediately reported them to SafeSport.
“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” the statement read. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor have had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”
Fletcher was 19 when she completed her first national team training camp. On the final night, she said, coaches and athletes of both sexes shared one hotel room, with Fletcher among three women in one bed.
“Peter Foley got in bed, snuck in behind me and began to stick his hand in my pants and touch me,” Fletcher said.
She said she was “completely shocked” but did not say anything. On a later occasion, she said Foley tried to “kiss me and pull me into the woods” at a post-race event.
On another occasion, she said, Foley pinned snowboard teammate Erin O’Malley against the wall of the hotel elevator in which all three were riding, then followed the women into their room. O’Malley hid under a bed until Foley finally left.
Simone Biles and Aly Raisman react angrily to settlement in Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal
Simone Biles and Aly Raisman are lashing back at a proposed $215-million settlement that would go to victims in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
In 2006, Fletcher was celebrating her medal at a party with board members, sponsors and trustees when Foley interrupted with a whispered reference to that national team training camp incident a dozen years earlier.
“I still remember how you were breathing,” Fletcher recalled Foley saying.
“It gave me chills. It brought me back to that moment of helplessness. It felt like it was his last stab at control.”
Although sex trafficking generally is distilled into a financial transaction — arranging sex for money — McCawley noted the term “commercial sex act” is defined in Section 1591 of the United States Code as a sex act in exchange for “anything of value.”
Fletcher spoke of a “power dynamic” where Foley had discretion in decisions from who might receive more meal money or leads for commercial endorsements to who might make the national team.
“You have athletes who are being promised things like a position in the Olympics, a spot on the team and things of significant value in exchange for participating in this abuse and remaining quiet,” said McCawley, who has represented victims of Jeffrey Epstein. “This is well suited for a [sex trafficking] claim.”
In a separate lawsuit, also filed Thursday, former USSS communications staffer Lindsey Nikola, alleged Foley coerced her into posing nude and, at another time, crawled into her bed and groped her. After she confronted him, the suit alleges, he retaliated in part by ensuring she would not accompany the snowboard team to the Olympics.
In the U.S., sexual misconduct in Olympic sport has a long and sordid history, as evidenced by the headline of a 2017 Washington Post investigative report: “Every Six Weeks for More than 36 Years: When Will Sexual Abuse in Olympic Sports End?”
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee proposes a plan to reform the organization following its failure to protect young athletes from sex abuse.
The next year, four women filed suit against the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. Taekwondo Assn., and two of its coaches, including sex trafficking among the allegations. The case did not proceed to trial, but a special master and a judge each rejected defense attempts to throw out eight allegations related to sex trafficking.
The snowboarders’ lawsuit makes seven allegations of sex trafficking, with other allegations of assault, battery, sexual harassment, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Foley, and of negligence and sexual assault against the governing bodies. The companion Nikola lawsuit includes two allegations of sex trafficking.
O’Malley first spoke publicly about the issue during an interview with ESPN in March. The third plaintiff, Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, spoke out in Instagram posts in February 2022.
Fletcher is coming forward publicly for the first time, understanding she might be compelled to testify against Foley. In an era where parents urge their children to tell an adult if something bad happens, she now feels compelled to say something.
“As a woman, and as the mother of an 11-year-old daughter, it’s my moral obligation,” Fletcher said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of here. I’m the victim.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.