Six women have filed civil lawsuits against USA Swimming, its local associations in California and three now-banned coaches claiming the national governing body failed to protect them from abuse by those coaches.
Debra Grodensky, Suzette Moran and Tracy Palmero, along with three other women who remain anonymous, filed three lawsuits this month — two in Alameda County Superior Court in Northern California and one in Orange County Superior Court in Southern California. Among individuals named in the suits are former U.S. Olympic and national team coach Mitch Ivey, former U.S. national team director Everett Uchiyama and former coach Andrew King.
The suits allege USA Swimming, including former executive director Chuck Wielgus, and other top officials, the local associations and clubs were aware of Ivey, Uchiyama and King’s predatory behavior but refused to address it, creating a culture of abuse that exposed dozens of underage swimmers to sexual abuse and harassment.
The lawsuits are believed to be the first major filings under a new California law that allows sexual abuse victims to confront in court their abusers and the organizations that protected predators. Assembly Bill 218, which went into effect on Jan. 1, created a three-year window to file past claims that had expired under the statute of limitations.
Grodensky said King abused her from ages 11 to 16 when she was a swimmer in Danville, California, in the early 1980s. Now 51 and living in New York, she said she has suffered from years of depression as a result of the abuse. Grodensky said King’s grooming of her extended to her family, friends and teammates.
Moran said King coached her at age 12 in Northern California. Around the same age, she said Ivey began grooming her for his sexual gratification, which escalated and resulted in him getting her pregnant at 17. Moran said he told her to have an abortion months before the 1984 U.S. Olympic trials.
Grodensky, Moran and Palmero said the culture continues to exist within USA Swimming.
In a statement, USA Swimming said the three coaches named in the women’s lawsuits have “long been” on the governing body’s list of individuals permanently suspended or ineligible for membership due to allegations of misconduct from the 1980s and 1990s, and the U.S. Center for SafeSport has recognized and honored their bans.
“We fully support survivors of sexual abuse along their healing journey. USA Swimming’s Safe Sport program continues to work with prominent health and education experts to provide meaningful member resources and SwimAssist funding to those in need,” the governing body said. “The organization and its current leadership remain committed to providing a safe environment and a positive culture for all its members.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault but Grodensky, Moran and Palmero have come forward publicly to speak about their cases.