A swimming coach and philanthropist claims she was wrongfully fired by former U.S. national coach Mark Schubert after she became aware of abuse allegations within his Southern California club, another embarrassing turn for a sport that has taken steps over the last two years to combat widespread claims of sexual misconduct.
The lawsuit, set to be filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court, claims Dia Rianda was brought in by Schubert to work at Golden West Swim Club last year while he was dealing with personal issues. It says she became aware of sexual abuse allegations against his close friend, Bill Jewell, and strongly objected to him working at the club.
The suit alleges Rianda was fired on July 11 after she tried to keep children from being around Jewell, said Ed Vasquez, a spokesman for her attorney Robert Allard. It does not publicly name a dollar amount she is seeking, but Vasquez said a financial settlement is not the primary goal. He noted that Rianda and her husband, Mike, are well off financially and have donated more than $100,000 to the USA Swimming Foundation, as well are more than $400,000 to purchase a pool for Carmel High School in California.
"This lawsuit is not about money but rather about making change at the top and protecting kids from predator coaches and those in USA Swimming leadership positions that enable these predators," Vasquez said.
Schubert did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. USA Swimming was trying to get a copy of the lawsuit before issuing a response.
Allard has filed several prominent suits against USA Swimming, exposing dozens of coaches who were involved in inappropriate relationships with underage swimmers. The cases led to the national governing body grudgingly revealing in 2010 that 46 members had received lifetime bans, mostly for sex abuse allegations — including the former director of the national team.
USA Swimming has since mandated training and set up an enhanced screening system for all coaches, officials and volunteers. At its national convention in Greensboro, N.C., last week, the organization revealed it has trained more than 31,000 non-athlete members, conducted background checks on nearly 36,000 and added 16 people to its banned list since the new program went into effect.
According to Vasquez, the lawsuit claims Rianda received complaints about Jewell from both parents and swimmers, passing on the information to Chuck Wielgus, the executive director of USA Swimming, and Susan Woessner, the organization's director of safe sport. The suit says no action has been taken against Jewell even though he has been under investigation more than a year.
Schubert is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame and took over as U.S. national coach after the 2004 Athens Olympics. He guided the team through the Beijing Games, where Michael Phelps set an Olympic record with eight gold medals, but was mysteriously fired by USA Swimming two years ago. No reason has been given for his dismissal.
Since then, Schubert returned to the deck at Golden West, rekindling his partnership with former Olympic champion Janet Evans, perhaps his most famous athlete. At age 40, she attempted a comeback after 16 years away from competitive swimming, but didn't come close to making the team for London during the U.S. trials this summer.
The suit also touches on a sordid affair allegedly involving Jewell and Schubert. According to Vasquez, Schubert hired a private investigator to take photos of another prominent coach, Sean Hutchison, engaged in improper sexual activities while working with the FAST program in Fullerton, Calif. Vasquez claims Schubert received a $625,000 payment from USA Swimming to keep from going public with the information.
Jewell was in charge of the FAST program and revealed to the AP in December 2010 that he had received complaints against Hutchison, though he stressed that no wrongdoing was found. Hutchison denied he was involved with one of his swimmers, but he left the club and was not known to have worked with any prominent athletes leading up to the London Games — a stunning downfall for a coach who had been a rising star of the profession.