Six women have sued U.S.A. Swimming, saying the national governing body for the sport failed to protect them from coaches who were sexual predators when they were preteens and teenagers decades ago, according to multiple civil lawsuits filed in two California courts.
The lawsuits, filed by women now in their 40s and 50s, claim that the organization enabled those coaches to sexually assault girls and young women for years. The women’s former swimming clubs and swimming associations, as well as two of their former coaches, also were named as defendants in the lawsuits.
“My sexual abuse was 100 percent preventable,” said Debra Grodensky, 51, a plaintiff in one of the three cases filed in state courts in Orange County and Alameda County with the help of the attorneys Robert Allard and Mark J. Boskovich. She said she was abused in the 1980s by her former coach, Andrew King. He is serving a prison sentence of 40 years for child molestation.
Grodensky and three other plaintiffs in her lawsuit sued U.S.A. Swimming under a recent California law that opened a three-year window in which people can file sex-abuse claims that had expired under the statute of limitations.
Two other women, Tracy Palmero, 46, and Suzette Moran, 53, each filed a separate case against U.S.A. Swimming and other coaches.
Palmero, who claimed that her former coach, Everett Uchiyama, abused her beginning when she was 16, said Wednesday during a news conference with several other plaintiffs that filing her lawsuit gives her “an avenue for closure” that wasn’t possible before the new law.
Also named in a suit was Mitch Ivey, a former U.S. Olympic and national team coach. Ivey, Uchiyama and King have been barred for life from Olympic sports by both U.S.A. Swimming and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an independent body that tracks abuse in Olympic sports and maintains a database of people who have been barred.
Uchiyama and Ivey did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The lawsuits represent the latest blow to a sport that, like gymnastics, has for decades struggled with abusive coaches who take advantage of young and vulnerable athletes.
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether U.S.A. Swimming tried to hide sex abuse claims within its sport. Among those at the center of those investigations is Chuck Wielgus, the longtime executive director of the federation who died of cancer in 2017 and who was criticized for his mismanagement of abuse claims. But the plaintiffs in the cases filed last week assert there was a cover-up that went beyond Wielgus.
“Chuck Wielgus was the poster boy bad guy within this organization,” said Allard, one of the lawyers. He added: “But he did not act alone. Not even close.”
A statement from U.S.A. Swimming on Wednesday said the organization was aware of the lawsuits and that its leadership remains “committed to providing a safe environment and a positive culture for all its members.”
“We fully support survivors of sexual abuse along their healing journey,” the statement said, noting it had barred the three coaches named in the lawsuits long ago.
Grodensky said she filed a lawsuit to force the current leadership of U.S.A. Swimming to make the sport safer.
Grodensky said she expected drastic changes to the organization’s leadership to happen years ago — at least in 2010 after King was sentenced to prison. But even then, the federation did not undergo major changes. She said King began abusing her when she was 12, and first had sexual intercourse with her at 15.
Now, lawsuits in hand, Grodensky and the other women are demanding that the federation take substantial action to protect young athletes.
“I want cultural change and mandated education within this great sport, so that child swimmers can thrive without abuse,” Grodensky said.