Retired gymnast McKayla Maroney filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking damages for the sexual abuse she says she suffered for years at the hands of Larry Nassar, a doctor who recently pled guilty to assaulting several young gymnasts under his care. According to the suit, the Wall Street Journal reports, USA Gymnastics paid Maroney $1.25 million in a confidential settlement last fall in exchange for her silence.
Maroney, a 22-year-old gold medalist from the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, broke that agreement when she wrote about her alleged abuse on Twitter in October. But Maroney and her lawyer, John Manly, say confidentiality agreements are illegal in California in cases of child sexual abuse. “We're basically saying [USA Gymnastics] and its lawyers violated the law by asking McKayla to agree to it and that she should be free to talk about her abuse to whomever she wants, whenever she wants,” Manly told ESPN.
Maroney’s lawyer at the time of the settlement was famed sexual-abuse and discrimination attorney Gloria Allred, who was recently criticized for making misleading statements about a yearbook note written by then-U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, leaving room for the right-wing press to cast doubt on her client’s entire story.
The settlement came at a time when USA Gymnastics, the governing body for the sport and the gateway to the Olympics for its most promising athletes, came under harsh scrutiny for its failure to act on sex-abuse claims made against more than 50 of its coaches. Four ended up incarcerated for their crimes, but not until they’d abused at least 14 gymnasts in the years after USA Gymnastics received complaints about their behavior. Nassar was a serial victimizer; he's been accused of sexual abuse by more than 140 women and girls in civil lawsuits. The revelation that a large national sports organization spent such a large sum to silence an alleged victim of a child abuser it enabled for decades—the first complaints to the organization came in 1997—will be particularly damaging as the association seeks to rebuild its reputation and regain the trust of the athletes and parents it serves.
Wednesday’s lawsuit names Nassar, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and USA Gymnastics as defendants, as well as Michigan State University, which employed Nassar and protected him for years after he was first investigated by law enforcement. In addition to damages, the suit seeks to nullify the nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses in Maroney’s settlement, on the grounds that they are unlawful in cases of child sex abuse.
The suit includes disturbing details of the abuse Maroney says she endured for almost five years, from the time she was 13 to her retirement from the sport in 2013. Her account aligns with those of several other alleged Nassar victims: In hotel rooms and private spaces at the Karolyi Ranch, where former Olympic team coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi trained athletes, Nassar allegedly penetrated her with ungloved fingers and took nude photos of her, all under the guise of medical treatment. The lawsuit accuses Nassar of violating Maroney dozens of times, all over the world, when he would travel with the team for gymnastics competitions.
“Nassar, on at least one occasion, disrobed Plaintiff, mounted the Plaintiff while performing a medical treatment, placed his fingers into her anus and vagina, and had an erection,” the suit states. Maroney’s mother described the same incident, which occurred the before a world championship meet in Tokyo, in a victim-impact statement submitted to a federal judge presiding over Nassar’s sentencing on a child pornography conviction. “She was only 15 years old. She said to me, ‘Mom I thought I was going to die,’ ” Erin Maroney wrote. “This experience has shattered McKayla. She has transformed from a bubbly, positive, loving, world class athlete into a young adult who was deeply depressed, at times suicidal.”
According to the lawsuit, Nassar “would continuously, obsessively and compulsively photograph” Maroney in public, which, along with his guilty plea on child pornography charges, led the gymnast to believe he also took photos while abusing her. Maroney “continues to worry, distress, experience concern, anxiety, and depression over whether Nassar’s photographs of her are still circulating through the internet, and whether they are possessed by other pedophiles and sexual deviants, and whether she will ever know how widely these photographs have been shared or whether they will eventually surface later in her lifetime,” the suit states.
Several other gymnasts have come forward with public allegations against Nassar; the most famous are Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, two stars of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams. Nassar will be sentenced for seven counts of sexual assault in January. The judge has given his accusers four days during the sentencing to speak in court about their alleged abuse.