USATF Board Member Jim Estes Suing USATF & Max Siegel for Negligence & DefamationBy Jonathan Gault
Last week, USATF board member Jim Estes filed a lawsuit in Marion County, Ind., against USATF, its CEO Max Siegel, and its COO Renee Washington. Estes is alleging negligence by USATF and Washington and defamation per se and invasion of privacy by Siegel.
All of this stems from the bidding process for the 2024 US Olympic Marathon Trials, which were awarded to Orlando in November and will be staged on February 3. On the same day USATF awarded the Trials to Orlando, Siegel wrote a letter to the Chattanooga Sports Commission — the only other city bidding for the Trials — to let them know they had been disqualified from the bidding process due to conflicts of interest involving Estes, who sits on USATF’s board as the Long Distance Running representative and had accepted a role as a consultant for Chattanooga’s bid.
The lawsuit states “James Estes has been defamed by communications that attribute Estes’ professional misconduct as the sole reason for the disqualification the Chattanooga Sports Commission’s bid for to host the 2024 U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials. This is simply not true.”
Estes’ lawyer, Brock Hagerman, pointed to the letter from Siegel to Chattanooga as one source of defamation. In that letter, Siegel wrote that the circumstances that led to Chattanooga’s disqualification “were neither created by USATF nor condoned by USATF.”
“We believe it’s quite evident that USA Track & Field did create the circumstances,” Hagerman says. “And so to put the blame exclusively on Jim Estes, that’s a false statement that directly attacks Jim’s professional reputation, which in the state of Indiana is defamation per se…USA Track & Field had notice of Jim’s work with Chattanooga all the way back in May 2022, when Jim first started working with Chattanooga.”
Indeed, Estes submitted a conflict of interest form to USATF in May 2022 informing USATF of his position with the Chattanooga bid. But it was not until late July 2022, after Estes had updated his conflict of interest form after being hired as COO at USA Badminton, that anyone from USATF spoke to him about his role with the Chattanooga bid. At that point, Hagerman says Estes did everything he was supposed to do, discussing the conflict with Washington and USATF Board Chair Mike Conley and agreeing to recuse himself when discussions of the Trials arose in USATF Board meetings.
Estes’ role with the Chattanooga bid did not become an issue until USATF conducted a site visit in Chattanooga from September 26-27, 2022, at which point, as reported by Runner’s World, USATF’s managing director of events and entertainment Adam Schmenk raised concerns about Estes’ presence and he was asked by Chattanooga organizers to leave. It was only then that USOPC became aware of Estes’ conflict of interest and opened an investigation.
“Anybody who’s served on a board at this level knows that you’re trained to disclose your conflicts – disclose and recuse,” Hagerman says. “And that’s exactly what Jim did in this situation.”
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The lawsuit also states that “Siegel, on at least one occasion, publicly stated that Estes did not disclose his involvement with Chattanooga on his [Conflict of Interest] Disclosure.”
Hagerman declined to provide any details about that incident to LetsRun.com.
“I’m not going to comment on that at this point in time,” Hagerman says. “I think that’s something that’s going to come out in the discovery process.”
In addition to suing Siegel for defamation per se and invasion of privacy, Estes is also suing Washington and USATF for negligence, alleging that they failed to review and properly act on his original conflict of interest declaration in May 2022.
Hagerman and Estes have not yet stated a dollar amount they are seeking in compensation for the damages Estes alleges have occurred. Hagerman says any financial award is secondary to restoring Estes’ professional reputation.
“That is the real purpose, the single most important purpose of this lawsuit, is for Jim to clear his name,” Hagerman says. “The damages, yes, he has been damaged financially, emotionally, and those damages are also important and can be quantified, but first and foremost, Jim wants to restore his reputation.”
USATF provided the following statement to LetsRun.com in response to Estes’ lawsuit:
We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the claims filed against USA Track & Field and our leadership. We vehemently reject the baseless allegations presented in this lawsuit. Ethical sport decisions made by USA Track & Field and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee should not be weaponized. We intend to whole-heartedly and vigorously fight this lawsuit, and we will not allow this action to distract from the historic trajectory of USATF and Team USATF under Max and Renee’s leadership.
Hagerman also says Estes is concerned his position on the USATF Board is under threat, citing recommendations sent from the USATF Ethics Committee to Conley on August 2022 and March 2023.
“The Ethics Committee recommendation, it’s very broad,” Hagerman says. “Effectively it says in the end that Jim shouldn’t be on the board because of conflicts of interest.”
Under USATF’s Code of Ethics, Estes is entitled to an opportunity to be heard prior to any recommendation by the Ethics Committee. Hagerman says that so far, Estes has been denied that opportunity.
Currently, Estes remains on the board, with his term set to expire in December 2024. In June 2023, the LDR Division Chair notified Conley that the LDR Executive Committee voted unanimously to keep Estes on the Board as the LDR representative.
Estes’ full complaint can be viewed here:
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