SAN DIEGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The California State Supreme Court ruling in the Los Angeles County lawsuit of Brown (Yazmin) et al. v. USA Taekwondo et al., S259216, is being hailed as a groundbreaking decision with far-reaching legal implications that will better protect young athletes against sexual abuse. The Court reaffirmed a lower court decision and ruled that USA Taekwondo, a United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) National Governing Body (NGB), had a legal duty to protect athletes from sexual abuse.
The Supreme Court case involved the appeal of a 2019 2nd District Court of Appeal decision (case number B280550). The appellate court had ruled that USA Taekwondo could be held liable for the harm caused to three athletes who were sexually abused by convicted coach Marc Gitelman. However, the appellate court also said that the USOPC did not have a duty to protect the athletes, which was also reaffirmed today by the State Supreme Court.
Attorney Stephen Estey represents one of the three sexually abused athletes in the case. “For decades, the USOPC’s National Governing Bodies have refused to implement necessary safeguards to keep athletes safe from predatory coaches,” Estey said. “This ruling will force the 61 NGB’s overseen by the USOPC to place the safety of youngsters over money and medals.”
The National Governing Bodies serve as coordinating organizations for amateur sport in the U.S. A majority receive direct payments from the USOPC and rely on the USOPC to manage the Olympic Trials. Through their affiliation with the USOPC, NGB’s such as USA Swimming, USA Gymnastics, USA Figure Skating, and others provide clubs in California that serve tens of thousands of youngsters, with the average age being 12 years-old.
According to USA Swimming training documents, some experts suggest that perhaps as many as 20% of children in competitive sports are at risk of abuse or exploitation.
The law firms of Estey & Bomberger, along with Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, are spearheading the legal efforts on behalf of the sexually abused taekwondo athletes.
“NGBs can no longer ‘turn a blind eye’ and blame small clubs which are in most instances underinsured, underfunded and mostly run by volunteer parents,” attorney Robert Allard said. “Minor athletes in the Olympic movement are far better protected now than they were in the past because NGB’s, now facing significant legal exposure if they fail to do the right thing, will be highly motivated to strengthen its child protection systems.”
“The ruling will make NGBs think twice about taking money from local clubs without providing a safe environment for kids, free of predatory coaches,” Estey said.