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, 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 while he was being investigated by USA Swimming.
“The reaction from Mark was very confusing,” she said. “On the one hand, he was concerned that the behavior was not acceptable. On the other hand, he justified it by saying that’s the way things have been at USA Swimming for a long time.”
Schubert didn’t immediately respond to a text message and a voice mail seeking comment.
USA Swimming said it doesn’t comment “on open investigations.”
“As a matter of process, when USA Swimming initiates a coach investigation, it immediately notifies the employing club,” the organization said in a statement. “As per the Amateur Sports Act, membership status is not affected without the opportunity for a due process hearing. Employment decisions during investigations are the responsibility of the employing club.”
The lawsuit doesn’t publicly name a dollar amount Rianda is seeking, but she stressed the main purpose of the lawsuit is to change the culture of the sport. She and her husband, Mike, have donated “well over $100,000” to the USA Swimming Foundation, along with more than $400,000 to purchase a pool for Carmel High School in California.
“There are rules to follow. They are there for a good reason,” Rianda said. “The rules are not that complicated and it shouldn’t be that difficult to follow them. If someone is complaining about a problem, the problem should stop immediately.”
While she made a complaint to USA Swimming, she didn’t report her concerns about Jewell to law enforcement.
“The behavior that I had observed was on the line as to whether it was criminal or not,” she said. “That’s why I never went to the authorities.”
Her attorney, Robert 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.
Even though USA Swimming is not named in this lawsuit, Allard repeated his oft-stated call for a change in leadership.
“We see some change is being made by some good people. I don’t think anybody denies that. This is predominantly a sport comprised of good people,” he said. “But at the very top of the organization, there is rampant corruption.”
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 investigation began in January.
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, though Rianda said she was told by Schubert that he was let go because he knew of a two-decades-old abuse case and wanted to go public.
Now, he’s accused of turning his back on a case closer to home.
“He just did not seem to have a concept of what the new rules were, what the new policies were,” Rianda said. “He would make excuses for (Jewell) and say he’s innocent until proven guilty.”
After his dismissal by USA Swimming, 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. It claims that 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 at the time 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.
Rianda said she still loves the sport and hopes that her lawsuit will lead to significant changes.
“It’s easy to let things sit forever until the statute of limitations runs out, or until somebody gives up. Then the problem goes away,” she said. “What people don’t realize is that for the kids who are harmed, the problem never goes away.”