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When Investigators Can Be Liable for Damages

On Behalf of | Jun 13, 2022 | Employee Sexual Harassment Claims |

Larry Nassar sexually assaulted hundreds of girls and women during his time as a staff doctor for the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team, and while working for Michigan State. Nassar pled guilty in 2017 and will spend decades in prison. The subsequent civil trial involving USA Gymnastics led to a landmark settlement worth hundreds of millions to the gymnasts.

Now, 90 gymnasts, including gold medalists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney, have filed a tort claim against the FBI, whose staff took a year to meaningfully respond to complaints against Nassar, leaving him to continue his predatory behavior. This claim is in addition to 13 separate allegations filed in April of 2022.

Investigators Dropped the Ball, Then Attempted a Coverup

FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged to Congress in 2021 that the Bureau made major mistakes: “I’m especially sorry that there were people at the FBI who had their own chance to stop this monster back in 2015 and failed. And that’s inexcusable,” Wray told victims at a Senate hearing. However, the Justice Department announced that it would not pursue criminal actions against the former agents, who provided inaccurate information and incomplete responses (to cover for their errors) during an Inspector General’s investigation.

A Billion-dollar Tragedy

The organizations that hired Nassar have already paid hundreds of millions to Nassar’s victims.

  • Michigan State paid $500 million to former students assaulted by Nassar.
  • The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee paid a $380 million settlement.

Similarly, the federal government has already paid out $127.5 million to families of 17 children killed during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. In this case, the FBI got a tip on the killer five weeks before the shooting but did not pass it along to its South Florida office to investigate. Considering the similarities in the botched handling of these tragedies, the gymnasts could receive another settlement.

Conduct an Appropriate Investigation

The size and scope of this claim are unusual. Nonetheless, it provides another example of how sexual predators and their enablers, including their employers and those appointed to conduct investigations, can be held accountable for their actions or inactions.  The Nassar and Parkland cases underscore the importance of the investigation.  Every complaint has the potential to become a lawsuit; therefore, employers should conduct adequate and appropriate investigations in a manner in which the investigation can be presented to a court if necessary. Conducting an appropriate, adequate investigation is important to protect a company from further liability.  Companies should consult with an employment attorney for any questions about what constitutes an appropriate investigation.

Thatcher Law Firm provides management training and conducts employment investigations for businesses. You can reach Thatcher Law Firm at 301-441-1400 and at  www.ThatcherLaw.com.

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