California Supreme Court rules USA Taekwondo is responsible for young athletes’ well-being
Landmark ruling opens the door for sexual abuse lawsuit to proceed
It’s been a long six years for three aspiring Olympians who sued their taekwondo coach in 2015 for sexual abuse. The young female athletes’ civil lawsuit also targeted USA Taekwondo and the US Olympic Committee, charging both organizations should have protected them from predator-coach Marc Gitelman.
Gitelman sexually abused the three athletes, who were minors, in Olympic Training Center dorms.
In 2017, the athletes won a $60 million judgement against Gitelman but the presiding judge dismissed USA Taekwondo and the USOC from the case.
Attorney Steve Estey appealed the ruling all the way to the California State Supreme Court, with the sports organizations arguing they should not be held financially liable for any harm caused by sexual abuse.
The high court ruled unanimously on April 1,2020 that the USOC was not liable for any harm because it did not have a close relationship with the women.
However, the Supreme Court also ruled that USA Taekwondo was liable for Gitelman’s harm.
USA Taekwondo is one of 61 National Governing Bodies that serve as coordinating organizations for amateur sport in the US; most NGB’s rely on what is now known as the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee to manage their Olympic trials.
“For decades, the USOPC and its National Governing Bodies have refused to implement necessary safeguards to keep athletes safe from predatory coaches,” Mr. Estey said. “This ruling will force the NGB’s that are overseen by the USOPC to place the safety of youngsters over money and medals.”
Mr. Estey went on to say that “the sexual abuse of athletes is a major problem in this country” and cited USA Swimming training documents that say as many as 20 percent of children in competitive sports are at risk for abuse or exploitation.”
The ruling means the National Governing Bodies “will no longer be able to bury their heads in the sand since they’ve been deemed responsible for the actions of their coaches,” Mr. Estey said.
The Supreme Court’s ruling specifically said that the three taekwondo fighters “may continue to pursue (their) suit against USAT.” The ruling also opens the door for civil suits against other governing bodies to proceed.
National Governing Bodies like USA Swimming, USA Gymnastics and US Figure Skating serve tens of thousands of youngsters in California, with an average age of 12 years old.