Motion Filed To Centralize Athlete Sex Abuse Lawsuits Against Varsity Spirit, Other Cheer Industry Entities
As a growing number of cheerleading athletes file sex abuse lawsuits against against Varsity Spirit and other entities, over rampant assault and misconduct perpetrated by coaches and trainers, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has been asked to centralize all cases brought throughout the federal court system before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
At least 21 cheerleaders across six states have filed at least 11 different complaints, each raising similar allegations that they were sexually abused by coaches and choreographers, and that gym owners, uniform manufacturers and gymnastics federations knew about the abuse, but covered it up. The lawsuits name Varsity Brands, LLC, as the main defendant, and also include claims that the U.S. All-Star Federation and others in the industry orchestrated a cover-up of the abuse.
The plaintiffs, often listed only as John Doe in the complaints, are primarily young male cheerleaders, who indicate they endured systemic coercion, sexual abuse and exploitation as minors, while on the competitive cheerleading circuit. However, female cheerleaders have filed complaints as well.
Many of the coaches accused in the lawsuits, such as Dominick Frizzell, Jason McCartney and Scott Foster, were considered “Cheerlebrities” with large social media followings and television appearances. Foster, the owner of Rockstar Cheer gym, in South Carolina, committed suicide after allegations and a lawsuit were filed in August.
The lawsuits and revelations of widespread cover ups have shaken the cheerleading industry, which involve similar actions similar to those uncovered in recent abuse claims brought against the Catholic church and Boy Scouts of America, indicating that obvious signs of sexual misconduct involving minors were ignored for years, and efforts were made to suppress credible claims of abuse, while protecting and enabling known perpetrators. These lawsuits also indicate that the cheerleading industry as a whole bares responsibility, after raking in obscene profits as a result of the conduct, by forcing parents to pay for hotels, equipment, lessons and transportation; at inflated prices.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in the athlete sex abuse lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system against Varsity Spirit and other cheer industry entities, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion for transfer (PDF) with the JPML on March 1, calling for all of the cases filed in federal courts nationwide to be consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
According to the motion, there are at least 12 different cheerleader sexual abuse lawsuits pending in seven different districts, representing 21 plaintiffs. The lawsuits also include claims Varsity Brands and other defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
“Plaintiffs’ overlapping claims, and in particular Plaintiffs’ claims arising pursuant to the laws of the United States, present a compelling case for consolidation in a multidistrict litigation (MDL),” plaintiffs state in the motion. “As an initial matter, these Scheduled Actions assert similar claims that the Defendants conspired with one another to create the appearance of a safe network for minor athletes while simultaneously knowing that the network was rife with opportunities for physical, mental, and emotional abuse.”
Plaintiffs say consolidation will allow the streamlining of the pretrial process, including discovery, pretrial motions and dispositive motions, and will minimize the inconvenience to witnesses, as well as reduce the risk of conflicting rulings.
As more cheerleaders come forward with their own stories of sexual abuse, it is likely that the size and the scope of the litigation will increase dramatically. If the cases are centralized, it is expected that the presiding judge will being a process of preparing certain cases for “bellwether” early test trials, which could help the parties reach a cheerleader abuse lawsuit settlement agreement.
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