USTA ordered to pay $9M to tennis player in sexual assault lawsuit

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USTA ordered to pay $9M to tennis player in sexual assault lawsuit

The United States Tennis Association was ordered Monday to pay $9 million to Kylie McKenzie, a 25-year-old former tennis prodigy, for failing to protect her from sexual assault at the USTA’s training facility. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI

The United States Tennis Association was ordered Monday to pay $9 million to Kylie McKenzie, a 25-year-old former tennis prodigy, for failing to protect her from sexual assault at the USTA’s training facility. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

May 7 (UPI) — The United States Tennis Association has been ordered to pay $9 million to Kylie McKenzie, a 25-year-old former tennis prodigy, for failing to protect her from sexual assault at the USTA’s training facility in Florida.

A federal jury deliberated for less than three hours Monday before awarding McKenzie $3 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages over USTA’s efforts to keep McKenzie, who was 19-years-old at the time, from speaking out.

“I feel validated,” McKenzie, who is currently working to revive her tennis career, told The Athletic on Monday. “It was very hard, but I feel now that it was all worth it. I hope I can be an example for other girls to speak out even when it’s hard.”

The USTA investigated McKenzie’s claims in 2018 before suspending and then firing coach Anibal Aranda, who was 34-years-old at the time and denied touching the tennis player inappropriately. According to the lawsuit, the USTA failed to disclose Aranda had assaulted one of their employees several years earlier.

In response to Monday’s ruling, the USTA said it would appeal, arguing the organization acted quickly to fire the coach while being sympathetic to McKenzie’s trauma.

“The court ruled that the USTA was liable because one of its employees — a non-athlete — had an obligation to report her own experience with this coach to the USTA, an incident that was unknown until after the USTA removed the coach. This sets a new and unreasonable expectation for victims, one that will deter them from coming forward in the future,” said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier.

While McKenzie notified the USTA and police that Aranda had initiated physical contact in 2018, she decided not to pursue a criminal case.

In its investigation, the U.S. Center for SafeSport ruled it was “more likely than not” that Aranda groped McKenzie at the USTA training center as he showed her a serving technique, according to The New York Times.

McKenzie filed the lawsuit after a USTA coach tried to silence her story and told her to tell others she had been ill. She said she suffered anxiety, panic attacks and depression as a result of the incident.

“They don’t put athletes first,” said Robert Allard, an attorney for McKenzie and an advocate for sexual abuse victims in sports.

“There needs to be a complete change in the organization so victims are not silenced but encouraged to come forward.”

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