Tragic Olympic Cyclist Suicide at Heart of Whistleblower Lawsuit

According to the lawsuit, Dr. William Moreau advocated on behalf of Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin, seen in a 2016 interview, shortly before she took her own life — and he was fired.
According to the lawsuit, Dr. William Moreau advocated on behalf of Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin, seen in a 2016 interview, shortly before she took her own life — and he was fired. YouTube
Dr. William Moreau has filed what's characterized as a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the Colorado Springs-based United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee; he was the organization's longtime vice president of sports medicine. Until last year, that is, when he claims he was fired after repeatedly championing athlete safety in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual-abuse scandal that rocked the USOPC.

The most startling claim cited in Moreau's case against the USOPC: He maintains that on March 7, 2019, he pushed higher-ups to get more actively involved in the care of Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin, 23, after she'd attempted suicide the previous month, but they failed to respond in an effective manner. The next day, in a widely reported incident, Catlin took her own life.

"There was complete arrogance and indifference, and then the tragedy occurred," says Darold Killmer of Denver's Killmer, Lane & Newman LLP, who represents Moreau. "And within two months, Bill was fired."

Westword sent a copy of the lawsuit and a February 5 Killmer, Lane & Newman press release about its filing to the USOPC (which is also referred to as the USOC, its previous acronym, in the suit). In response, Luella Chavez D’Angelo, the committee's chief marketing and communications officer, shared the following remarks via email: "We have not been served with this suit and are just reviewing the complaint now. As to the press release, we regret that Dr. Moreau and his attorney have misrepresented the causes of his separation from the USOPC. We will honor their decision to see this matter through in the courts, and we won’t comment on the specifics as that goes forward."

Moreau, who's currently working at a college in Portland, Oregon, offered a statement of his own. "I hope that my lawsuit will push the USOC to finally take accountability for its past mistakes and change for the better," he says. "This case is not only about the way the USOC treated me. It is also about protecting the athletes that the USOC has for too long knowingly put in harm’s way. The time has come to shine a light on the USOC’s long practice of prioritizing medals and money over the rights and well-being of athletes and retaliating against the people who object to improper or illegal practices."

The lawsuit specifically calls out the crimes committed by Nassar, who was sentenced to more than 300 years in prison after separate trials in 2017 and 2018 for sexually abusing many members of USA Gymnastics, for which he served as team doctor, over a span of years. "During his employment with the USOC, Dr. Moreau led the way in seeking to reform the USOC by attempting to forward several initiatives to better protect athletes from sexual and other abuses perpetrated by predators," the document states. "Dr. Moreau pressed for athletes to be appropriately evaluated and treated in compliance with all medical laws and regulations and the USOC’s own ethics policy. Dr. Moreau advocated for the USOC to focus and create rapid change related to the athletes’ mental and physical health. Dr. Moreau urged the USOC to appropriately address the sexual abuse and exploitation of young female athletes."

click to enlarge Dr. William Moreau during a 2017 interview. - YOUTUBE
Dr. William Moreau during a 2017 interview.
Moreau was trained as a chiropractor, but his role during the ten years he spent at the USOPC didn't call for him to personally treat athletes. "He was an administrator," Killmer explains, "and he was hired because he's good at what he does. He always got awesome reviews, and there was no criticism of his performance even when they fired him. But as the USOC increasingly, and justifiably, came under public scrutiny for a variety of scandals, including the one involving Larry Nassar, Bill was increasingly urgent about how they had to oversee medical providers more closely. And that led to problems."

At first, Killmer continues, "Bill did what a lot of people do — he talked in a friendly, suggestive way about why they needed to change this policy or comply with this law, hopeful everyone would understand the significance of it. But then it became clear that they were affirmatively resisting such change — and when they started punishing him, it became more worrisome. But Dr. Moreau didn't back down. He continued to say the USOC needed to comply with state and federal laws, which are extremely detailed regarding patient safety."

But the organization failed to do so, the suit claims. As an example, Killmer references "something that happened a couple of years ago at the Drake Relays" in Des Moines, Iowa, where "an underage, fifteen-year-old paralympic athlete was sexually assaulted by a twenty-year-old paralympic athlete," he says. "In Iowa, that's statutory rape, and it requires a lot of reporting — but to Dr. Moreau's shock, they refused to report it. Basically, they tried to ignore the problem, saying it wasn't a mandatory reporting incident, all of which was wrong. Bill had to force them to do the right thing, and it didn't make them very happy. The USOC is incredibly publicity-shy and very protective, especially after what happened with Larry Nassar."

Then, in January 2019, Killmer says, "a coach at the training center in Colorado Springs was in a sauna, completely naked, in an area where there were underage female athletes. That was absolutely sexual misconduct, and Dr. Moreau reported that, as well. But rather than taking remedial action, they just asked the coach not to do it anymore, all to Bill's horror. He was wondering, 'Why aren't they taking these things seriously, especially because the USOC is under such a microscope?'" That scrutiny resulted after the national law firm Ropes & Gray released a damning report about the committee's response to the Nassar case in December 2018.

The Ropes & Gray analysis characterized the USOPC as "an organization [that] was effectively disabled from considering and taking appropriate action in response to the athlete complaints about Nassar due to the decision by two senior officers to keep the matter to themselves." Both of those officers — Chief of Sport Performance Alan Ashley and CEO Scott Blackmun — subsequently resigned.

In February 2019, Moreau learned of the suicide attempt by Catlin (she isn't referred to by name in the complaint), which took place after she had disengaged from follow-up psychiatric care. That raised a red flag for Moreau, who, according to the filing, expressed concerns about what he saw as the USOPC's "woefully insufficient" decision to form a committee to meet and talk with the cyclist to Chief of High Performance Rick Adams. When this effort went nowhere, the suit continues, he sent Adams an email on March 7 that warned: "The USOC is not following standards of care related to the management of suicidal athletes. We do not have the appropriate internal resources to manage these serious issues in house. If we do not make changes quickly, in the next day, next week, next month or next year an athlete we are responsible for will again take their own life."

On March 8, this awful prediction came true.

But none of these matters were mentioned as the reason for Moreau's dismissal, Killmer says. "Their excuse was a feeble one: They told him they wanted to have an MD rather than a doctor of chiropracty as head of the department. But ironically, he was replaced by a doctor of chiropracty," he points out. His replacement was Dustin Nabhan, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as having received a doctorate in the discipline from Southern California University of Health Sciences.

The case, filed in Denver, "is very, very important," Killmer emphasizes, "and the USOC needs to pay attention to these developments and what they mean for the health and safety of Olympic athletes."

Click to read Dr. William Moreau v. United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the Dr. William Moreau lawsuit press release.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts