Just hours before the 2021 U.S. Figure Skating Championships were set to begin in Las Vegas, the attorney for a former skater said the sport’s national governing body agreed to pay $1.45 million to settle the skater’s lawsuit accusing the organization of being negligent in its duty to protect young athletes from sexual abuse.
Adam Schmidt, 36, a former skating student of suspended Olympic coach Richard Callaghan, alleged that he suffered “numerous sexual assaults” by the well-known coach when he trained with him as a teenager in the years after U.S. Figure Skating ignored or dismissed other allegations of sexual abuse against Callaghan, now 74, who coached Tara Lipinski to an Olympic gold medal in 1998.
The settlement and information about the lawsuit was first reported by ABC News.
“Adam is incredibly brave to have proceeded with this lawsuit against a huge organization like U.S. Figure Skating,” his attorney, John Manly, said in a phone interview Thursday. “He is just the tip of the iceberg in this sport. These athletes should be treated like the treasures they are. They’re the best our country has to offer. Instead, they’re treated like a commodity in an organization that has a culture of sexual abuse that is stunning and despicable.”
Richard Callaghan, shown in 1997 working with Tara Lipinski, was banned by the U.S. Center for SafeSport in 2019. (Photo: Anne Ryan, USA TODAY Sports)
In a statement, USFS said it “does not comment on litigation,” adding it “fully supports all victims of sexual abuse and misconduct.”
In addition to the USFS settlement, Schmidt previously reached a $1.75-million settlement from the Onyx Ice Arena in Detroit, where Callaghan coached him and where the alleged sexual abuse took place.
In July 2020, another of Callaghan’s former skating students, Craig Maurizi, sued Callaghan and USFS over alleged sexual abuse by Callaghan. Maurizi alleged that Callaghan engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with him in 1976 when Maurizi was 13, and later initiated a full sexual relationship with Maurizi when he was 18.
That alleged relationship continued until he was 22, after which time Callaghan continued to engage in the inappropriate sexual conduct sporadically for another 12 years, Maurizi told USA TODAY Sports in March 2018.
In January 2018, Maurizi, now 57, detailed those allegations in a report filed with the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which suspended Callaghan in March 2018. USFS then suspended him as well. A lawsuit filed by Callaghan against SafeSport was dismissed.
The case remained unresolved until August 2019, when Callaghan received a lifetime ban, which then was controversially reduced to a three-year suspension in December 2019 by an arbitrator. Callaghan has repeatedly denied the allegations.
The U.S. figure skating community has been rocked by a series of high-profile sexual abuse allegations over the past two years. Almost exactly two years ago, on Jan. 18, 2019, two-time U.S. pairs champion John Coughlin, 33, died by suicide one day after he received an interim suspension from SafeSport.
USA TODAY Sports has reported that there were three reports of sexual abuse against Coughlin, two of them involving minors. Coughlin’s death effectively ended the investigation into those reports, SafeSport said.
In a Jan. 7, 2019 email to USA TODAY Sports, Coughlin called the allegations against him “unfounded.”
On Aug. 1, 2019, three-time U.S. champion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist Ashley Wagner told USA TODAY Sports that she was sexually assaulted by Coughlin after a party at a USFS national team figure skating camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado in June 2008. At the time, she had just turned 17 and Coughlin was 22.
And SafeSport continues to investigate an allegation of sexual abuse of a then-13-year-old American female figure skater by French Olympic pairs skater Morgan Cipres, who allegedly direct messaged two photos of his penis on Instagram to the girl on Dec. 3, 2017.
The girl and her parents said Cipres’ coaches, John Zimmerman, a 2002 Olympian and member of the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, and Silvia Fontana, a 2002 and 2006 Olympian representing Italy, tried to keep the family from reporting the alleged incident to authorities by shaming and threatening the girl as Cipres, who then was 26, prepared for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Zimmerman and Fontana have denied the allegations, while Cipres said he had “nothing to say about this allegation.” Cipres retired from skating in September 2020.
Last month, USA TODAY Sports reported the Florida state attorney’s office has filed a felony charge against Cipres for the transmission of material harmful to a minor by electronic device, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.
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