GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) – Eighteen women and girls are the latest to sue over a former USA Gymnastics physician’s alleged sexual abuse, accusing the organization and Michigan State University of turning a blind eye to assault complaints.
Rachael Denhollander and 17 Jane Does sued MSU, USA Gymnastics and Lawrence Gerard Nassar in Grand Rapids federal court Tuesday, alleging Nassar sexually assaulted, abused and molested them under the guise of medical treatment starting in 1996 until he was fired in 2016.
MSU’s Board of Trustees and Twistars USA Inc. dba Gedderts’ Twistars Gymnastics Club USA are also named as defendants in the 99-page complaint.
The lawsuit is the latest legal action over the alleged assaults, which the plaintiffs say took place at MSU and Twistars. Another gymnast made identical allegations in October in a complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The ages of the women and girls allegedly assaulted ranged from 9 to 29 years old, many of whom were minors at the time, Tuesday’s lawsuit states.
According to the complaint, Denhollander saw Nassar at his office at MSU in 2000 for wrist and back injuries related to gymnastics. She says on five separate occasions, Nassar penetrated her vagina and anus with his finger without notice and without gloves or lubricant.
Nassar also allegedly unhooked her bra and massaged one of her breasts without permission. Denhollander says she was 15 years old when it happened.
Jane T.T. Doe, who played on MSU’s women’s softball team, says she was sexually assaulted and abused when she was seen by Nassar, also in 2000.
The woman, who was 18 years old at the time, alleges Nassar touched her vagina to “heal back pain” she was experiencing.
She complained to her trainer on the softball team but was told that Nassar was a “world renowned doctor, and that it was legitimate medical treatment,” the complaint states, so she continued with the treatments.
But Nassar became bolder, Jane T.T. says, “having [her] remove her pants, and then inserting his bare, ungloved and unlubricated hand into her vagina,” according to the lawsuit.
When she reported the incident to a high-ranking trainer, she was not only told that it was not sexual abuse and she was not to talk about it, but was also told to continue her treatments with Nassar, she claims.
Even though it received various reports of sexual abuse by Nassar, the lawsuit claims MSU failed to investigate the claims in violation of reporting policies and procedures and Title IX.
As a result of MSU allegedly failing to investigate the 1999 or 2000 complaints and taking no corrective action from 2000 to 2016, Denhollander says she and the other women and girls were sexually assaulted, abused and molested by Nassar “by vaginal and anal digital penetration, without the use of gloves or lubricant and by touching and groping their breasts.”
In 2014, in an unrelated complaint about sexual assault on MSU’s campus, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigated another complaint of alleged sexual assault and retaliation from 2011. While OCR was conducting the investigation, additional complaints about Nassar surfaced, according to the lawsuit.
In one particular complaint, an alleged victim claimed Nassar “cupped her buttocks, massaged her breast and vaginal area, and became sexually aroused.”
MSU did investigate the 2014 complaints, but the alleged victim’s statements about the incident were withheld from the investigation report, including Nassar being sexually aroused while touching her body, according to Denhollander’s suit.
After three months, the complaints were dismissed when MSU deemed Nassar’s conduct “medically appropriate” and “not of a sexual nature,” the complaint states.
However, in November 2016, Nassar was arrested in Ingham County, Mich., on three charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person under 13 years old. A month later, he was indicted in Grand Rapids federal court on charges of possession of child pornography and receipt or attempted receipt of child pornography. Nassar has denied any wrongdoing.
The Indianapolis Star has reported that as many as 30 people have filed civil or criminal charges against Nassar or otherwise accused him of abuse. USA Gymnastics is based in Indianapolis, and the Star has run a series of stories on the growing scandal.
In an email Tuesday evening, MSU said “our hearts go out to those directly affected” and the university is “deeply disturbed” by the state and federal criminal charges against Nassar.
“The criminal investigation into Larry Nassar is a top priority for MSU Police. Detectives are vigorously reviewing all complaints and working through them with the state Attorney General’s office and federal U.S. Attorney’s Office,” the university said.
It added, “Additionally, the university began an internal review in September, looking at all aspects of operations involving Nassar’s work at the university. It will continue as new information and/or allegations are brought forward. An external law firm is advising MSU on the review, which will result in disciplinary action if appropriate. Also, MSU initiated a separate review looking closely at our clinic policies and operations to determine if there are steps we should take to make improvements.”
MSU also says its review has found no evidence that anyone approached the university with complaints about Nassar before Aug. 29, 2016, other than the 2014 complaint that was investigated by MSU Police and its Title IX office.
The 18 women and girls seek compensatory and punitive damages for claims of claim gross negligence, negligent supervision, fraud, emotional distress, and Title IX and civil rights violations. They are represented by Stephen Drew with Drew, Cooper & Anding in Grand Rapids.