Kylie McKenzie, a once-promising tennis player whom an investigation found was “more likely than not” to have been sexually assaulted by a coach at a United States Tennis Association training center, filed a federal lawsuit against the organization on Monday, claiming it had failed to keep her safe from someone with a history of assaulting women.
Lawyers for McKenzie, 23, who lives in Arizona, said in the filing in US District Court in Orlando, Fla., that the USTA had failed to disclose that the coach, Anibal Aranda, had assaulted one of his employees years before the alleged incident with McKenzie.
The employee said that Aranda had groped her and touched her vagina over her clothes at a New York City dance club around 2015, but that she did not disclose the incident to anyone. After the employee learned about McKenzie’s accusations, she regretted not reporting her allegations, she told the investigator for the US Center for SafeSport, the organization tasked with investigating sexual and physical abuse claims in sports.
SafeSport suspended Aranda from coaching for two years and placed him on probation for an additional two years after finding it more likely than not that he touched McKenzie’s vagina over her clothes and groped her under the guise of showing her a serving technique in 2018, when she was 19.
“As of August of 2018, defendants knew or reasonably should have known of Coach Aranda’s propensity to sexually defeat, threaten, harm, assault, and otherwise mentally, physically, and emotionally injure female athletes,” the suit states. Her lawyers say the USTA did not live up to its duty of care by failing to engage a chaperone for Aranda’s associations with McKenzie and other female athletes, and allowing him to supervise young women in private “after being provided notice that Coach Aranda was inappropriately touching and inappropriately engaging in sexual communications with athletes.”
The lawsuit comes at a time when the national governing bodies for sports are under increasing scrutiny for the people they employ to develop young talent. Female gymnasts who were sexually abused recently reached a $380 million settlement with USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
McKenzie’s case also calls attention to what some in tennis have long viewed as systemic problems with the development of young players, who often leave home for training academies, where coaches serve as mentors, surrogate parents and guardians on trips to tournaments.
Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the USTA, said the organization does not comment on pending litigation. Widmaier previously said that the organization first learned about the 2015 incident after McKenzie filed her complaint because its employee had not told anyone in the organization. After McKenzie filed her complaint over the alleged incident, which she said occurred on a back court at the USTA’s Orlando training center, Widmaier said the organization acted immediately to suspend and terminate Aranda.
In his testimony during the SafeSport investigation, Aranda denied ever touching McKenzie inappropriately, either during or after training. He also said he did not recall touching another employee inappropriately. He suggested McKenzie had fabricated a story because she had been told that the USTA was planning to stop supporting her. Accusing him of abuse, Aranda said, would make it more difficult for the organization to cut her off, an assertion USTA coaches and McKenzie rejected.
“I want to be clear, I never touched her vagina,” Aranda told a SafeSport investigator, according to those records. “I never touched her inappropriately. All these things she’s saying are twisted.”
He has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
The SafeSport records are confidential, but The New York Times has reviewed a copy of the final ruling, the investigator’s report and notes from the investigator’s interviews with a dozen witnesses, including Aranda. The Times has also reviewed a copy of the police report by an Orlando detective.
In an interview with The Times this month, McKenzie said learning that someone at the USTA could have warned her to be wary of Aranda had doubled her trauma.
“He told me: ‘You’re a champion. I want to work with you,’” McKenzie said of Aranda. “I had every reason to trust him.”
The suit also alleviates that McKenzie endured inappropriate treatment from two other coaches earlier in her training with the USTA, with one coach beating her for consorting with boys and instructing her to remove all male contacts from her phone and another joking with her about undergarments and how people might think they were a couple when they traveled alone to Texas for a tournament.
McKenzie says she has suffered physical and mental injuries since the incident. Her lawyers argued in the filing that she was entitled to compensation for her physical and emotional distress because the USTA failed to implement and enforce proper policies to protect athletes; fostered a culture of inappropriate coach-athlete relationships; and failed to intervene to prevent the escalation of inappropriate conduct.