Madison Brengle, an American player currently ranked No. 83 in the WTA Tour rankings, filed a blockbuster lawsuit Monday in a Florida court.
In it, the 28-year-old names the International Tennis Federation, the WTA Tour, and the ITF anti-doping arm responsible for administrating drug tests. The suit also names Stuart Miller, Senior Executive director, Integrity & Development for the ITF since 2001.
It also names John Snowball, a doping control officer who also maintains an education manual “and thereby assists in training and supervising” those who collect anti-doping samples.
The suit was filed by lawyer Peter Ginsberg. Brengle also has a local lawyer in Florida, Charles Johnson III.
The suit aims “to hold Defendants responsible for their outrageous conduct in subjecting Brengle to anti-doping blood testing using needles, despite Defendants knowing and ignoring that she suffers from a rare medically-diagnosed physical condition which results in both temporary and permanent physical injury, emotional trauma, and pain and suffering from having a needle inserted into her vein, and thereafter extracting punishment and repeatedly harassing Brengle following her challenge to this conduct,” per the court filing.
In addition to damages “in excess of $10 million”, Brengle also is asking for an injunction permanently restraining the parties from “performing and threatening to perform a venipuncture blood test.
“Permanent swelling and weakness”
Ginsberg provided a statement Monday to The Guardian, which is where Tennis.Life first saw the news of the lawsuit.
“Tennis authorities ignored evidence of her professionally-diagnosed condition and refused to provide alternative testing or a medical accommodation, instead subjecting Brengle to testing that caused her to withdraw from tournaments and has now resulted in permanent swelling and weakness in her serving arm and hand,” the statement read.
The statement also included comments from Brengle, per Reuters.
“I am bringing this action in an effort to force those who control the sport I love to understand that players are not commodities and should be treated with respect and dignity,” Brengle said. “The unbridled authority of officials to subject players to the kind of abuse I suffered cannot be tolerated; players must have a say in matters involving our health and safety.”
If it gets to trial, will be the second high-profile case brought against tennis authorities by a player, after Canadian Genie Bouchard reached a settlement in her suit against the USTA during the trial held in February.
Notably in previous years Serbia’s Viktor Troicki had to serve a 12-month doping suspension when he balked at having a blood sample taken via needle at the Monte Carlo Masters, five years ago next week. “I feel like I’m being treated like a criminal,” he said.
Tennis.Life has read the court filing, and summarized the major elements of it (summary being a relative term) below.
Short- and long-term effects
The condition Brengle says she suffers from is called “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Type I”. She says its induced by venipuncture (i.e. when blood is drawn), and the procedure causes “extreme pain as well as swelling, numbness and bruising” and “severe anxiety due to the anticipatory fear of the excruciating pain that the venipuncture blood draw will cause her.”
The ITF is the organization that administers anti-doping tests. The lawsuit brings in the WTA Tour as it says the WTA “forced” her to undergo the blood testing despite knowing about, and “witnessing the consequences of the effects of the procedure on her.”
The suit says the ITF promises players the tests will have no physical effect on their performance and that they are obligated to make reasonable modifications where necessary “to address a medical condition.”
In the suit, Brengle said she had repeatedly advised all parties she couldn’t tolerate the blood testing. And she says the reaction from those parties was to dismiss those concerns and, basically, that it was all in her head.
Brengle told the New York Times in an interview that the medical issue runs in her family. But she had never felt any ill-effects from it until she underwent intravenous sedation for the removal of her wisdom teeth, at age 17.
One specific instance alluded to in the court documents occurred at Wimbledon in 2009. Brengle underwent both urine and blood testing. But the phlebotomist’s first two tries at getting the vein on the inside of Brengle’s left elbow failed. On the third try, they got it. But the vein collapsed and Brengle lost consciousness. She suffered a panic attack and “painful bruising”. And after she returned home to Florida, Brengle developed a hematoma and for five days after the incident, couldn’t play tennis without “severe pain in her left arm.”
Australian Open, 2016
At the beginnig of 2016, the ITF began compiling “blood passports” for athletes, track records that they hope indicate patterns that can help identify dopers.
Brengle said she said she requested to have the blood drawn after her tournament was over rather than before, given her history. The suit says Miller was “dismissive” of her request and basically told her if she didn’t take the blood test, it would be an anti-doping violation.
The blood test was performed six days before the tournament – this time inside her right elbow. During that test, the suit alleges, the needle “hit a nerve bundle” in her arm, and had to be stopped. Brengle went to the tournament doctor, and due to the bruising and hematoma, couldn’t practice before the tournament. “Even two days before (her) first match, she could not maintain a grip on her racquet when making contact with the ball,” the suit states. She also was unable fully to straighten her arm, and the arm did not return to normal for two weeks.
Brengle came into Wimbledon that year in fine form. She reached the semifinals of a grass-court tuneup in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and then qualified and reached the third round at Eastbourne.
But she lost in the first round, to Kurumi Nara of Japen.
The next day, Brengle went to pick up her prize money. There, she was informed she had to undergo a blood test. The suit states that this demand violated the rules of the program because it occurred after midnight following her elimination from the tournament, and thus was “a targeted out-of-competition drug test.”
Brengle says she told the administrator, Mr. Snowball, that she shouldn’t take the test because of the previous issues.
“In response, Snowball streamed at Brengle, publicly called her a liar for claiming she had a medical condition … and accused her of previously lying in this regard at the Australian Open.”
The doctor agreed to draw the blood from Brengle’s foot. And then, Brengle claims, it got nasty.
The American requested a form to complain about Snowball’s conduct. But she claims he “continued to bully and threaten her and told Brengle “that if she said anything about him, then he would say worse things about her.”
As it happens, the man she was complaining about, Snowball, is “responsible for collecting such forms on behalf of (the) ITF.
Brengle said she sent a letter to the ITF, along with photos of the effects on her foot. And she said the response from Stuart Miller was that “Brengle’s behaviour during the Wimbledon … test was unacceptable, and that the ITF was “considering taking action against Brengle for her conduct at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open” in connection with the tests.
US Open, 2016
Two months later at the US Open, Brengle was advised she would have to take another blood test related to the passport program prior to the tournament.
Given the previous incidents, her father Daniel contacted Stuart Miller to ask that the date of the test be moved up, so she could recover from the aftereffects in time to play in good health in New York.
Miller’s response, the suit claims, was that it “would cost thousands of dollars to do the blood testing earlier,” and asked if Brengle would pay for it. She agreed, but then, she claims the ITF not only refused to have the test done earlier, but informed her that it was now scheduled two days before the start of the US Open.
When she played her first-round match two days later, she “continued to experience pain and loss of feeling in her right arm”, and retired down 6-2, 4-2 to countrywoman Kayla Day. (Brengle won just one more match the rest of the season, and that was when her opponent retired).
Only after all these incidents did Brengle get a medical diagnosis, for which a written report was prepared in November 2016. (You could ask the reasonable question about why she didn’t do this long before 2016, given the 2009 experience. The New York Times story says she was not subjected to a blood test in those intervening seven years).
Official medical diagnosis
In January, 2017, Brengle’s father Daniel submitted a request to Miller reiterating the need for accommodation in her case.
Two months later, the suit says, the ITF “acknowledged that Brengle suffered from CRPS Type I, but could not be exempted from the blood tests.”
In May, 2017, the ITF proposed Brengle take only the regular urine tests until the 2017 Open – subject to an independent medical assessment done by a medical professional chosen by the ITF and WADA, at her own expense.
That was done in July. And the suit claims the ITF-selected doctor agreed with the diagnosis. The one-year exemption was granted a month later. A few days after that, Brengle’s father received an email from Miller saying the exemption was “not an admission that her condition was caused by previous venipuncture.”
Happy Valentine’s Day
On Feb. 14, 2018, a doping control officer from the US Anti-Doping Association (USADA) arrived at Brengle’s Bradenton early in the morning for an unannounced doping test.
Brengle said that the officer arrived after the hour she had stated in her whereabouts filings, and that she was leaving for a doctor’s appointment. But the officer, per the filing, told Brengle that since she had opened the door, she had to submit to the test and if she didn’t, it would be a doping violation.
The officer then drove with her to the doctor (an hour away), “accompanied her to the treatment room, witnessed the entire exmination and listened in on Brengle’s confidential conversations with her doctor.”
They then drove back to Brengle’s home where she did the urine test.
Two days in a row
The next day, another officer, this time from the ITF, came to her house early in the morning and told her she had to do both urine and blood tests.
Brengle said she wouldn’t take the blood test and the officer warned her that if she didn’t, it would be an anti-doping violation.
She provided the officer with a copy of the latter outlining the exemption and didn’t take the test. But the suit claims Brengle experienced “significant anxiety and mental suffering.”
That’s the short version.
Experienced sports litigator
Lawyer Ginsberg is a New York-based attorney hired by Brengle last November. Per his website, the New Yorker has a practice that “has spanned professional football, representing chiefly players and coaches in League matters and litigation, NCAA matters, and professional golf, baseball and hockey internal and litigation disputes.”
Ginsberg represented NFLer Ray Rice in his wrongful termination suit against the Baltimore Ravens, getting his client $1.588 million. He also represented former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Wilma in the “Bountygate” scandal.
”She can give blood. She just can’t tolerate the needle in her vein. She could give blood via a pin prick in her finger. She will submit to a urinalysis,” Ginsberg told the Associated Press. ”She’s not trying to avoid being tested. She’s trying to avoid having a needle being stuck in her veins.”