The latest lawsuit accusing a former USA Gymnastics doctor of sexually abusing a longtime member of the U.S. women’s national team is the first to name renowned husband-and-wife coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi, alleging they turned a blind eye to molestations.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles, does not provide specifics about what the Karolyis were allegedly told about the abuse, just that they knew about it and did nothing to stop it.
The Karolyis did not return messages seeking comment.
The civil lawsuit, filed by the now 24-year-old former gymnast, claims Dr. Larry Nassar repeatedly sexually abused her when she was on the national team from 2006 to 2011.
Nassar’s attorney didn’t respond to messages Thursday but his lawyer has previously vehemently denied abuse allegations by two other gymnasts. Nassar hasn’t been criminally charged.
The lawsuit accuses the Karolyis of creating a toxic environment that allowed the alleged abuse to thrive at their ranch north of Houston, where gymnasts would stay in bungalows while receiving individual instruction from the national staff and medical attention from Nassar.
“Everyone left and went back to the house and left Larry Nassar alone with a bunch of little girls,” said John Manly, the attorney representing the gymnast who filed Thursday’s lawsuit.
“There are a lot of former national team members who are gutted emotionally,” he said.
The Karolyis and the current and former presidents of USA Gymnastics “had knowledge of inappropriate conduct and molestations committed by (Nassar) before and during his employment, yet chose to allow him to remain unsupervised where he sexually abused plaintiff,” according to the lawsuit.
Manly declined to discuss specifics about the allegation that the Karolyis knew of the abuse, saying it would only help their case.
The lawsuit also accuses the Karolyis of their own abusive behavior, saying they would hit gymnasts, scratch them until they bled, deprive them of food and water, belittle their physical appearance and cut them off from contact with their parents. That environment opened the door for Nassar to groom the girls by acting like an ally and sneaking them treats, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also says the current and former presidents of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny and Robert Colarossi, “oversaw a wide-ranging, calculated concealment of numerous instances, complaints and allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct.”
Penny and Colarossi ignored abuse allegations against Nassar to maintain the reputation of USA Gymnastics, the lawsuit alleges.
USA Gymnastics, also named in the lawsuit and speaking on behalf of Penny and Colarossi, denied the allegations and called the claims against Nassar troubling.
The Indiana-based governing body previously said that it cut ties with Nassar when Penny went to authorities immediately after learning of athlete concerns about Nassar in the summer of 2015.
The lawsuit echoes allegations against Nassar filed by other women in another California lawsuit last month. It says Nassar digitally penetrated the gymnast without gloves under the guise of performing what he called an “intravaginal adjustment.”
Manly, the attorney representing the gymnast, said at least 20 other women have come forward with abuse allegations against Nassar connected to his work at Michigan State University’s sports medicine clinic and are considering filing lawsuits.
The allegations date back to 1996, the same year he was hired by USA Gymnastics.
Though U.S. gymnastics became the most dominant women’s program on the planet under the Karolyis, the couple’s coaching methods have not been immune to criticism.
Dominique Moceanu, a member of the 1996 Olympic team, claimed the Karolyis were verbally, emotionally and physically abusive to her at times during her elite career, criticizing Moceanu for her weight and body type, among other things.