Nothstein’s velodrome tenure rocky, ex-chairman claims
Allegations come in response to invasion of privacy lawsuit. Nothstein’s lawyer calls them ‘gross miscalculations.’
Complaints of “toxic masculinity,” “bizarre behavior” and an “inappropriate physical relationship” with a coach marked Marty Nothstein’s tenure as executive director of the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, the velodrome’s former chairman alleges in a court filing.
Velodrome board member Andrew Ralston’s filing this week responds to a lawsuit Olympic gold medal cyclist Nothstein filed last year in which Nothstein alleges the revelation of an investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against him was an invasion of his privacy.
Nothstein also is suing the
nonprofit Velodrome Fund Inc., which operates the Upper Macungie Township cycling center, and The Morning Call, which in 2018 was first to report that Nothstein was placed on unpaid leave after the velodrome board was notified about the investigation. Nothstein announced a week after the story was published that SafeSport had cleared him of wrongdoing.
The Morning Call has filed preliminary objections to Nothstein’s claims, arguing in part that because he is a public figure and the allegations were matters of legitimate public interest he cannot make out a case of invasion of privacy. The Velodrome Fund’s deadline to file a response is next week.
Nothstein was a candidate for the Lehigh Valley’s congressional seat at that time. Today he chairs the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners, and is seeking reelection Nov. 5.
Litany of complaints
Ralston’s response details workplace complaints by four former velodrome employees and alleges an inappropriate relationship between Nothstein and a cycling coach. It describes as “aggressive” and “hostile” Nothstein’s reaction when board members refused to hire Nothstein’s close friend and longtime coach over concerns of misconduct. And it alleges after Nothstein was suspended from his job, Ralston discovered Nothstein had been using his velodrome office for campaign work.
“Nothstein’s use of velodrome facilities for campaign work could have placed the velodrome’s tax-exempt status at risk,” Ralston’s response says.
Nothstein’s attorney David Heim said Friday that Ralston’s allegations are inflammatory and untrue and will be defeated in court. He declined to comment on the allegations directly.
“It’s unfortunate that he has stooped to this level and it’s not true,” Heim said. “They are really gross mischaracterizations.”
The filing denies the claim that Ralston disclosed to Morning Call reporters information about the investigation of Nothstein by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, and states that Ralston does not know who leaked an internal email informing other board members of the investigation.
It also challenges an allegation in Nothstein’s lawsuit that Ralston had funneled tens of thousands of dollars worth of velodrome legal work to his law firm, White and Williams, noting that until harassment complaints emerged against Nothstein, the amount of work the firm did was minimal. When the firm was engaged to defend the velodrome in a complaint against Nothstein, Ralston did not exercise his right to apply to the firm for a finder’s fee, the filing says.
“Mr. Nothstein has maliciously perpetuated this false narrative to support his baseless allegations of pretext for the actions of the [velodrome] board of directors,” Ralston’s response says.
The Morning Call reported Aug. 17, 2018, that Nothstein was placed on leave from his job in February 2018 after velodrome board members became aware of the SafeSport investigation. The unspecified misconduct claim referred to an alleged incident from about 2000, when Nothstein won an Olympic gold medal, according to a velodrome board email reviewed by reporters.
A week later Nothstein announced at a news conference that SafeSport had cleared him of wrongdoing. “The Center [for SafeSport] has completed its inquiry and has determined that, based on the information and evidence currently available, the Center is not proceeding with any further proceedings at this time and the matter is now closed,” says a SafeSport email Nothstein’s campaign made public Aug. 24, 2018
Legal settlements needed
Ralston’s filing says the velodrome settled at least two complaints against Nothstein. It says in addition to harassment and discrimination complaints, the board also received complaints from community members that Nothstein was romantically involved with a person he had hired to be a coach at the velodrome.
When confronted with the complaints, Nothstein denied any sexual contact with the person but admitted he had made himself vulnerable to criticism by spending time alone in his office, going for long bicycle rides and staying in a Las Vegas hotel room with the coach, the filing says.
According to Ralston’s filing, a female velodrome marketing manager brought a complaint against the velodrome alleging Nothstein “fostered a culture of toxic masculinity ... where only men were respected.” Another female employee, the velodrome’s operations manager, quit her job unexpectedly, telling the board Nothstein created a hostile work environment by behaving bizarrely.
“Amongst other complaints, Mr. Nothstein had hysterically screamed at her for an extended period of time while driving with her in his vehicle at an excessively high rate of speed. She felt endangered by this behavior,” the filing says.
A third female employee quit suddenly, telling board members that, as a female, it was impossible to work for Nothstein, the filing says.
It also refers to a discrimination claim by a former employee, identified in the filing as “Male Employee 1.” The Morning Call previously reported on the 2017 lawsuit filed by Christopher Gill, a cycling champion from Trinidad who alleged in it that Nothstein created a “noxious work environment.”
In his lawsuit, Gill claims Nothstein told him “you Trinidadians are lazy and conmen,” and that to make Trinidadians good employees, “you have to beat it out of them.” The lawsuit, which the velodrome settled in July 2018, also alleged Nothstein subsequently cut Gill’s salary by 40 percent and required him to work longer hours.
Close friend and longtime coach
Ralston’s filing describes how he learned of the SafeSport investigation, and states that it was focused on sexual misconduct allegations against both Nothstein and his longtime coach and close friend Gilbert “Gibby” Hatton.
After receiving notice from USA Cycling of the investigation on Feb. 9, 2018, Ralston forwarded the message to the velodrome board of directors, who scheduled an emergency meeting. The filing notes that news of the investigation of Nothstein and Hatton came in the wake of sexual abuse scandals involving the U.S. Olympic sanctioning organizations for gymnastics and swimming.
Before an emergency board meeting Feb. 12, 2018, Ralston spoke with Shane Garman, an attorney for USA Cycling. Garman told Ralston the organization notified the velodrome of the allegations against Nothstein so it could take “appropriate steps” to address what USA Cycling considered “very serious allegations,” according to Ralston’s filing.
Garman allegedly also told Ralston that USA Cycling had received information that Hatton continued to be a frequent visitor to the velodrome and that Nothstein was giving him jobs, the filing says.
Hatton could not be reached by telephone or email Friday. A spokesperson for USA Cycling did not respond to an inquiry about the alleged investigation of Hatton.
The filing describes Nothstein approaching the board in 2015 and asking to hire Hatton as the velodrome’s director of community programs.
Several members expressed concern to Ralston about Hatton’s “character for sexual misconduct,” the filing says without explaining what that means. The board decided against hiring Hatton, the filing says, and informed Nothstein of its decision.
“At that point, Mr. Nothstein rose from his chair and began moving towards Mr. Ralston in an aggressive, hostile manner. Other members of the board intervened, stepping between Mr. Nothstein and Mr. Ralston,” the filing says.
Alleged conflicts of interest
Ralston’s response to the lawsuit also describes situations in which Nothstein allegedly put his interests ahead of the velodrome’s.
After the board placed Nothstein on unpaid leave in February 2018, members asked Ralston to go to the velodrome and locate a signed copy of Nothstein’s contract. In Nothstein’s office, Ralston found “a great deal” of congressional campaign materials including stationary, envelopes and postcards, the filing says.
Ralston claims Nothstein had been explicitly told that he could not use velodrome property for his campaign. It notes that nonprofit organizations are barred from engaging in political campaigns and “Nothstein’s use of the velodrome for campaign work could have put its taxexempt status in jeopardy.”
Nothstein allegedly sought to secure his job by making contracts contingent on his employment, Ralston’s filing says.
In 2014, the Velodrome Fund extended its lease with Lehigh County, which owns the velodrome property, for 20 years. Nothstein, who was not yet a county commissioner, allegedly proposed a provision that the lease with the county would last only as long as he was executive director of the velodrome.
“The VFI board of directors refused to include Nothstein’s bizarre, self-serving proposal into the lease with the county,” Ralston’s filing says.
The following year, when the Velodrome Fund renewed a naming rights contract with Valley Preferred physicians group, Valley Preferred required a term to remain in the contract that called for reduced payments if Nothstein was no longer executive director, according to Ralston’s filing.
Nothstein also pressured the board to hire his personal friend as the velodrome’s lawyer to defend him in the discrimination lawsuit filed by Gill, the Trinidadian cycling coach, Ralston’s filing says.
After Gill complained about discrimination and harassment, the filing says, the velodrome board hired Nancy Conrad, an employment lawyer at Ralston’s firm White and Williams.
Nothstein requested that the Velodrome Fund instead retain his friend, attorney R. Eric Hall, as the velodrome’s lawyer in the case. The filing, which describes the request as “self-serving,” says Hall had no experience in the area of employment law.
“Mr. Ralston, and every other member of the board of directors, believed that Attorney Hall may put Mr. Nothstein’s interests and desires above that of the velodrome,” the filing says.
Hall, who died in December, originally filed the lawsuit against Ralston, the Velodrome Fund and The Morning Call.