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Judge dismisses Nothstein’s defamation suit against USA Cycling

Published November 12, 2020

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (BRAIN) — A federal judge has dismissed a defamation suit that Olympic medalist Marty Nothstein had filed against USA Cycling.

Nothstein, a three-time world champion an Olympic medalist, sued after a report of a sexual misconduct investigation arose while he was running for a U.S. House seat in 2018. Nothstein, a Republican, lost the race in Pennsylvania's 7th District to Democrat Susan Wild. Wild was elected to a second term this month.

Nothstein had charged that USA Cycling damaged his reputation and invaded his privacy by placing him on a list of cyclists suspended for misconduct and then revealing the investigation to a local newspaper reporter.

Local police investigated the claims and found them to be “meritless” and closed the matter, which the Lehigh County District Attorney’s office announced before the election. Two alleged victims also told the Center for SafeSport that the misconduct never took place.

Judge Edward G. Smith closed Nothstein's case on Nov. 5, agreeing with USA Cycling that the governing body had complied with the Safe Sport Authorization Act. The SSAA, which President Donald Trump signed into law in February 2018, was passed in response to the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal. It requires amateur sports organizations to report sexual abuse allegations to the newly formed Center for SafeSport and to take actions that include letting some members of its community know the identity of accused abusers.

According to court filings, an anonymous tipster contacted USAC 11 days after Nothstein announced his candidacy for the House. The tipster alleged that Nothstein had engaged in sexual misconduct 18 years prior, at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

USAC said it followed the SSAA requirements and reported the allegation to the Center for SafeSport, suspended Nothstein’s license and placed him on a list of suspended riders. When a reporter for Lehigh County's The Morning Call reached out, a USAC employee confirmed there was an ongoing investigation into allegations against Nothstein, which the paper reported. The USAC employee later said he did not confirm the investigation involved alleged sexual misconduct, which is how the paper reported it.

Smith ruled that the SSAA explicitly shielded USAC from liability “for defamation, libel, slander or damage to reputation” for carrying out the responsibilities required by the law, unless they were acting with actual malice.

The confirmation to the newspaper reporter was not protected by SSAA, Smith said, but he ruled that the USAC could not be found liable because the statements to the reporter were true.

The SSAA protects alleged victims’ privacy but does not protect that of alleged abusers. Smith found that USA Cycling had not invaded Nothstein’s privacy by disclosing the investigation, in part because as a public figure and candidate for office, the information USAC revealed was of legitimate concern to the public. Smith noted that USAC’s response to the reporter was “truthful, concise, and not selective.”

Nothstein has a month to appeal the decision.

According to The Morning Call, Nothstein is suing the paper separately in Lehigh County Court, “alleging its reporting on his suspension from the nonprofit that operates the county-owned velodrome placed him in a false light and invaded his privacy.”

Nothstein celebrates winning gold at the 2000 Games. Credit: Mark Dadswell/ALLSPORT

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