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A Turning Point in McKenzie v. United States Tennis Association

In a groundbreaking development within the legal realm of sports and accountability, a recent ruling obtained by Newsome Melton attorney, Amy Judkins, has shaken the grounds of the case McKenzie v. United States Tennis Association (USTA). The ruling, which favored tennis professional Kylie McKenzie, brought to light the USTA’s failure to supervise her during training sessions with USTA coach, Anibal Aranda, who is alleged to have sexually groomed, harassed, and assaulted McKenzie at the age of 19.

The order by U.S. District Judge Paul G. Byron granted McKenzie partial summary judgment, reflecting a crucial step towards justice for McKenzie. The order affirmed that the USTA owed McKenzie a duty of care to protect her from sexual misconduct. Central to the ruling was the acknowledgment that USTA, as the national governing body of tennis, is entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding individuals in their programs. The judge reinforced the argument that athletes, like McKenzie, place their trust in these organizations to uphold their duty of care and prevent instances of abuse.

The order noted that an investigation conducted by the United States Center for SafeSport—a federal agency with the authority to investigate and resolve allegations of sports-related sexual misconduct—confirmed Aranda’s involvement in sexual misconduct with McKenzie. The Center’s investigation revealed an incident from four years prior involving Aranda and a USTA employee, bringing to light previous knowledge of Aranda’s unfitness for coaching employment. Judge Byron’s order underlined the gravity of the USTA’s internal knowledge of sexual misconduct within tennis, with records showing 31 reports of sexual abuse within the sport from 2013 to 2018.

McKenzie’s motion for partial summary focused on her claims for negligence, leaving other claims like battery and emotional distress for the upcoming trial. In contrast, the USTA sought summary judgment on all counts, claiming a lack of awareness of Aranda’s misconduct history. Judge Byron’s rejection of their motion indicated that matters of breach and causation warrant a jury’s examination.

The lawsuit’s narrative unveils alarming details surrounding Aranda’s actions, including arranging practices in secluded settings without surveillance, which created the opportunities for his assault on McKenzie. With McKenzie’s affiliation with the USTA’s Player Development Program from a young age, the case sheds light on fundamental flaws in the organization’s policies and practices concerning athlete safety.

The implications of this ruling extend beyond McKenzie’s case, raising critical conversations about the culture of sports organizations and their obligations to protect athletes from harm. The outcome of the case has the potential to reshape the landscape of accountability within the sports industry.

The case is set for trial on April 29, 2024, in front of Judge Paul G. Byron in the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida. McKenzie will be represented by Newsome Melton attorneys Amy Judkins and Maegan Peek-Luka, along with Robert Allard of Cerri, Boskovich & Allard.