U.S. Snowboarders Sue Ex-Coach, USOPC, And Their Federation For Sex Trafficking
4:48 PM EST on February 6, 2023
Three former members of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team have filed a lawsuit against the organization, saying its leadership worked together to cover up years of sexual abuse of athletes by one of its top coaches, snowboarder Peter Foley. The lawsuit also named the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, former U.S. Ski and Snowboarding CEO Gale "Tiger" Shaw III, and Foley himself as defendants.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in a California federal court. It lists 17 causes of action, including sex trafficking, sexual battery, sexual assault, and violation of the RICO Act.
Attorney Sigrid McCawley, who represents all three plaintiffs, said in a statement: "Today a group of fierce women who performed at the highest level in the sport of snowboarding have banded together to hold the gatekeepers of the sport liable for abuse and harassment. For decades the abuse and harassment was just part of the toxic culture they endured as they pursued their dreams on their snowboards. They have bravely come forward to say no more and to demand change and accountability."
A lawyer for Foley did not respond to a message requesting comment. U.S. Ski and Snowboard told the Associated Press in a statement that it would not comment on the lawsuit but insisted it was "taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community." The USOPC also refused to comment but told the AP it too takes "every allegation of abuse very seriously.” ESPN reported that Shaw did not respond to its request for comment.
The complaint followed a separate lawsuit filed on Thursday in federal court against U.S. Ski and Snowboard, Foley, and Shaw by a former federation employee. In her lawsuit, Lindsey Nikola said that Foley sexually assaulted her. Nikola also said that Foley forced her to take nude photos at a World Cup ski race for his sexual gratification. The Salt Lake Tribune said on Friday that it had spoken to 11 former athletes, parents, and coaches who used the phrase "institutional failure" for Foley's reign.
Foley was the very first head coach of a U.S. snowboard team, getting the job in 1994. He was the team's head coach for well over two decades, finally leaving the post in March 2022—when SafeSport temporarily suspended him and ESPN published a lengthy article in which three former athletes detailed many examples of sexual misconduct by Foley.
"Founding coaches of a sport, as is Foley to snowboarding, yield a level of power that can be career ending for an athlete if they do not comply with the coach’s demands," the lawsuit stated. "In fact, several athletes knew the cost and stayed silent about his behavior for many years to preserve their careers. Many still do."
The lawsuit goes into detail about the experiences of all three women while they were training with U.S. snowboarding teams. The first is Rosey Fletcher, a three-time Olympic snowboarder who won a bronze medal in the 2006 games in parallel giant slalom. According to the lawsuit, Foley sexually assaulted Fletcher when she was 19 years old after a training camp. Before a flight the next day, all the athletes and coaches were sharing a room and Fletcher fell asleep on the edge of the bed, per the complaint. She woke up to Foley getting in bed with her, where he assaulted her.
"Rosey did not feel like she could tell Foley to stop because of his power over her career," the lawsuit said, "even though she felt his conduct was an assault and did not want him to touch her in any way."
Erin O'Malley joined the U.S. snowboard team in 1995 and competed in the World Cup and Winter Olympics. She states that Foley began verbally abusing her when she was 15. He would comment on O'Malley's weight, calling her "chubby," and leading her to develop an eating disorder, the lawsuit said. Foley also groped O'Malley after a competition and tried to kiss her without her consent inside an elevator, per the lawsuit. Fletcher was also in the elevator and she saw this happen.
Afterward, O'Malley did not report what happened because she "believed there was no one she could report Foley's behavior to," the complaint said.
Snowboarder Callan Chythlook-Sifsof competed for the U.S. from 2005 to 2014, including at the 2014 Olympics. In the lawsuit, Chythlook-Sifsof recalled Foley whispering between her and another teammate's ear that "he wanted to 'put [his] tongue inside her pussy' as he pointed to a younger girl on the dance floor of a bar." The lawsuit added that Chythlook-Sifsof knew Foley took nude photos of female athletes, and that Foley wouldn't punish anyone on the team who engaged in inappropriate conduct. Instead, he would join in.
Chythlook-Sifsof went to her first Junior World Championships in 2005, when she was 16. Afterward, she joined her fellow athletes in going out to celebrate. That night, per the lawsuit, she was sexually assaulted by a male coach from another team. Though this person was not a U.S. Ski and Snowboard coach, the lawsuit said that the organization "set the stage for the assault to occur and failed to change the toxic environment that would facilitate many more USSS athletes and USSS personnel to be harmed in the same way."
It was Chythlook-Sifsof who first publicly talked about Foley's actions in an Instagram post during the Beijing Olympics.
The complaint detailed multiple times that Chythlook-Sifsof tried to report Foley. Per the document, Chythlook-Sifsof made formal complaints to then–U.S. Ski and Snowboard CEO Gale "Tiger" Shaw III, but Shaw did not sanction Foley. Chythlook-Sifsof also reported Foley's actions to a program manager, who did not "take any steps" and an assistant coach, who did not notify SafeSport. In March of last year, all three women reported Foley to U.S. Ski and Snowboard's general counsel, Alison Pitt. According to their lawsuit, she told them that "they would be required to confront Foley face-to-face" by SafeSport. This is not a requirement of SafeSport.
Fletcher and O'Malley reported what happened to them to current U.S. Ski and Snowboard CEO Sophie Goldschmidt but their concerns "fell on deaf ears, as they were met with confusion and a failure to act."
One moment that stands out from the lawsuit involves former U.S. Ski and Snowboard board member Lisa Kosglow. Kosglow, per the lawsuit, is "neighbors and good friends with Foley." Kosglow called Fletcher on Feb. 16, 2022, telling her that Foley had asked her to reach out to Fletcher "on his behalf." She told Fletcher, according to the document, that Foley "was so devastated as a result of the abuse reports."
"Despite these direct complaints, Kosglow never reported the allegations to SafeSport as promised," the lawsuit said. "Moreover, she violated the Code which is clear that—at all times—the USSS was precluded from independently investigating allegations of sexual abuse." Kosglow has since resigned her board position, days after an ESPN report came out detailing her interference. At the time, Kosglow did not respond to ESPN with any comment.
A copy of the lawsuit is below.