Cheerleader Sex Abuse Class Action Lawsuit

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is set to hear oral arguments on May 25, 2003, to determine whether to consolidate all cheer sex abuse lawsuits filed against various coaches, gyms, and organizations in the competitive cheerleading industry under one judge for centralized pretrial proceedings.

March 2024 Update

In a recent ruling, U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers III dismissed claims against two North Carolina cheer coaches and the U.S. All-Star Federation regarding their alleged failure to report sexual abuse. The judge found they cannot be held liable for “aiding and abetting” the abuse.

Specifically, the judge dismissed claims under the Child Abuse Victims’ Rights Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act brought by a former cheerleader referred to as John Doe 1. Additionally, the judge dismissed Doe’s state law claims, suggesting they could be pursued in state court. This ruling follows a settlement announcement in January involving other defendants.

The case, filed in October 2022, was the first of nine lawsuits against various entities in the competitive cheerleading world. Despite a request for consolidation, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation denied it, citing informal coordination among parties and limited overlapping discovery.

January 2024 Update

Varsity Brands LLC is reportedly nearing a settlement in a significant legal case in Florida. This case accused the company and its subsidiaries of playing a role in the sexual abuse of underage cheerleaders. According to recent federal court documents, the parties involved – including anonymous plaintiffs, their parents, and Varsity Brands – have informed the court of a preliminary settlement agreement. This agreement, once approved by the court, would resolve the claims against Varsity Brands and its founder and former CEO, Jeff Webb. Details of the settlement are not yet public.

The lawsuit, filed last year, centers on allegations against Erick Kristianson, a coach with the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF), who is currently facing criminal charges in Florida. He is accused by numerous athletes of sexual abuse. The plaintiffs, in their lawsuit, also targeted Varsity Brands, asserting that the company, as a key business partner in competitive cheerleading, supported a system that facilitated abuse in the sport.

Notably, this settlement does not include USASF, Kristianson, Champion Elite cheerleading gym, or its owner Ashley Hughes. The lawsuit alleges that the underage athletes met Kristianson at Champion Elite and developed close relationships with him, including social interactions outside the gym and transportation to practices and competitions.

In 2022, these athletes disclosed to their parents instances of unwanted sexual contact by Kristianson. Despite reports to Florida’s Department of Children and Families and USASF in 2021 and 2022, no significant action was taken against Kristianson, other than a directive to wear appropriate undergarments.


New Jersey Sex Abuse Lawsuits

New York Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Settlement Amounts in Sex Abuse Cases

The plaintiffs are all current or former private All-Star cheer athletes.  The plaintiffs’ lawyers are on a mission to hold the entire cheerleading industry accountable, accusing various companies and entities of profiting by ignoring signs of sexual misconduct involving minors for years and suppressing credible abuse claims while protecting known perpetrators, all in the name of profits.

The Defendants

The sex abuse lawsuits lawyers seek to consolidate include claims against Jeff Webb, the founder and former President of Varsity Spirit, LLC, and corporate defendants.  These defendants allegedly created, financed, and governed the private All-Star cheer business, while enabling or ignoring the widespread sexual abuse of participating minors by coaches and adult athletes. Meanwhile, the corporate defendant specifically marketed their competitive All-star cheerleading system as “safe” through online marketing, advertising, and social media. These sex abuse lawsuits assert that these representations were a sham, primarily used to extract payments from athletes for membership, apparel, camps, and competitions while leaving coaches they knew to pose a threat to children in place because it was profitable to look the other way and ignore the signs that were there to be seen.

There are more defendants.  These abuse claims also include defendants in various gyms, gym owners, and coaches from the gyms.  These are different gyms for different lawsuits, but the common thread among these gym defendants s is that they operated within the Corporate Defendants’ network, were certified members or worked under the jurisdiction of Defendants USASF and USA Cheer, and were profitable components in the revenue-generating machine promoted by the other corporate defendants.

Since September 2022, the Doe Plaintiffs have filed the Scheduled Actions against the Corporate Defendants, Defendant Jeff Webb, and the Gym Defendants, alleging various federal and state causes of action. The Scheduled Actions include claims for violating the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. § 2255) and Civil Conspiracy in Violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (18 U.S.C. § 1962, or “RICO”).

The Allegations in the Lawsuits

The sex abuse lawsuits plaintiffs’ lawyers seek to consolidate allege that coaches, gym owners, and gyms, such as Defendant Rockstar Cheer, participated in a scheme led and supervised by the corporate defendants and Jeff Webb. This scheme aimed to create an uninterrupted flow of young athletes to maintain a monopoly over the cheer industry. It involved promoting specific gyms and coaches, placing them in positions of trust with athletes like the victims in these lawsuits.  After establishing an umbrella organization (USASF), these defendants created to coach and gym certification, which they promoted as an additional layer of athlete protection. They expanded their control through various methods, including hosting coaching conferences, purchasing gyms, offering cash incentives to gym owners, and adopting marketing and event tactics targeting young athletes.

But the plaintiff’s allegations are even more direct: they alleged these companies knew or should have known that these coaches and gyms were abusing the athletes but ignored it because their business interests were their priority.   When allegations about specific coaches or Varsity affiliates arose, the Varsity Defendants, Defendant USASF, and Defendant USA Cheer either ignored the allegations, deemed them not credible based on arbitrary criteria, or allowed the accused to leave the Varsity-affiliated program quietly, enabling them to relocate without parents knowing about the allegations of misconduct against minors.

Like most sex abuse lawsuits, the allegations in these cases allege a variety of means to control and manipulate children. The lawsuits outline numerous pathways of abuse toward young individuals and the misuse of authority. It accuses gym officials of not only engaging in sexual assault but also providing alcohol and cannabis to minors, as well as persuading some to share explicit images of themselves. It was a system designed to perpetuate abuse and absolute power over children.

Seeking a Sex Abuse Class Action Lawsuit in Tennessee

A group of plaintiffs filed a motion for transfer with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) on March 1, requesting that all cases filed in federal courts nationwide be consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings. The plaintiffs argue that consolidation would streamline the pretrial process, minimize inconvenience to witnesses, and reduce the risk of conflicting rulings.

MDL class action lawsuits are usually used for mass tort product liability lawsuits. But the plaintiffs argue that the transfer and coordination of these related abuse cases are appropriate under federal law when: (i) multiple civil cases involving common factual questions are pending in different districts; (ii) transfer and coordination will foster the just and efficient management of these cases; and (iii) transfer and coordination will accommodate the convenience of parties and witnesses.  The gist of the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ arguments for a class action is that all of these cases have many common defendants, and there are several common questions, such as the legality of the Defendants’ misrepresentations on their websites, the extent of individual Defendants’ decision-making and control, their responses to reports of sexual abuse, and their implementation of policies affecting athlete safety, that would be more efficiently handled with consolidation in a class action.

Is an MDL a Class Action?

An MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation, is a legal procedure designed to consolidate and streamline the pretrial proceedings of multiple civil cases that share common factual issues and are pending in different federal districts. MDLs are established under 28 U.S.C. § 1407 and are managed by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), a panel of federal judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

An MDL is different from a class action even though people – including judges and lawyers like us – use them interchangeably as we have in this post.  In a class action, one or more plaintiffs (named as class representatives) sue on behalf of a larger group of individuals (the class) who have similar legal claims. All class members are bound by the outcome of the class action lawsuit unless they choose to opt-out. A class action lawsuit can be filed in either state or federal court.

An MDL does not link the plaintiffs with a joint outcome.  An MDL and a class action both consolidates multiple individual cases for pretrial proceedings. But in an MDL, once the pretrial proceedings are completed and usually after a few test trials in the MDL, which is what you would expect in these sex abuse cases as we discuss below,  the cases are remanded back to their original federal districts for trial or settlement.

How an MDL Class Action Promotes Settlement in Cases Like This

The hope with an MDL will facilitate settlement by streamlining the pretrial process, promoting efficiency, and reducing costs for all parties involved. The consolidation of cases with common factual issues under a single federal judge enables better coordination and management, which can ultimately encourage settlement.

An MDL also pushed the defendants to offer reasonable settlement amounts because you see everyone’s cards on the table.  So a coordinated approach often results in a more comprehensive understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case, making it easier to reach a fair settlement. The structure of an MDL can facilitate communication and cooperation between the parties so they can more easily engage in joint settlement discussions, share information, and work towards settlement payouts that satisfiy the victims.

Finally, bellwether trials play a crucial role in facilitating settlements, particularly in mass litigation cases such as multi-district litigation (MDL). These trials involve selecting a small number of representative cases from a larger pool of similar lawsuits to proceed to trial. The outcomes of these bellwether trials provide valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the cases, the potential jury reactions, and the possible range of verdicts that can help the parties determine settlement amounts in these sex abuse lawsuits.

Will it come to that here?  Will there be trials to determine settlement value? Maybe. But probably not. The defendants are probably smart enough to offer fair settlement payouts before a jury ever hears a case.

Contact Miller & Zois About Your Clergy Sexual Abuse Case

Our law firm cares about sex abuse victims.  We represent people were sexually abused by a priest, pastor, or other individual connected to or employed by a church or corporation like in these cheerleader lawsuits. If you were the victim of abuse, we are here to help you.  Call us today for a free, confidential consultation at 800-553-8082 or reach out to us with a question or ask for a case evaluation online.

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