ELYRIA — Jo Ann and Robert Madison stood on the steps of Ely Square, downtown Elyria’s focal point, just a few short weeks before their daughter, Tianna, would go on to win a gold medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics and beamed with pride.
When talking about their daughter on that warm day in July, the couple spoke of their excitement for the upcoming races that Tianna would participate in and how they couldn’t wait to head to London to cheer her on. However, if a lawsuit filed Thursday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court is any indication, behind the scenes, the Madison family was dealing with a lot of tension and turmoil as the relationship between the athlete and her parents broke down.
This week, Jo Ann and Robert Madison filed a libel, slander and defamation lawsuit against their athlete daughter, accusing her of defaming them with false statements and allegations.
The complaint, naming Tianna Madison and her husband, John Bartoletta, as defendants, states that since March of this year, the couple has repeatedly made or had published false and defamatory statements about the Madisons to various third parties, including media outlets in Ohio and Florida.
The lawsuit details allegations that Tianna Madison wrongly alleged that her parents mismanaged her finances, and that they knowingly allowed a boy who had molested her in the past to enter their home in her presence.
Tianna Madison, who was the lead sprinter in the women’s relay team in the 4×100 meter event and who went on to win a gold medal after the team broke the 4×100 world record, and John Bartoletta reside in Florida and returned there after the games in London.
Brian Butler, spokesman for Tianna Madison and John Bartoletta, said the couple was not going to comment publicly on the accusations.
“This should be a time for not just Tianna, but her family to celebrate all she has gone through and her winning a gold medal,” he said. “That is what she is going to focus on at this time.”
Butler said Tianna Madison is very much focused on continuing her athletic career and the programs she has started to help inspire young girls.
“And, I think, she is trying to take some time to enjoy the fact that she won an Olympic gold medal,” he said.
Attorney Scott Schooler, who is representing Madison’s parents, said that despite filing the lawsuit, the couple want to reconcile with their daughter.
“They are not seeking any financial gain,” he said. “At the end of the day, they would like to restore their relationship with their daughter. Beyond that, I am not going to comment on the parameters of any possible resolution.”
And while Schooler said the couple is not seeking money, the lawsuit does include the boilerplate language that often is in civil suits — asking for compensatory damages in excess of $25,000 and punitive damages in excess of $25,000 plus court costs and fees.
Schooler said the Madisons see the lawsuit as a way of getting their daughter’s attention.
“It was a wake-up call for Tianna to really look at the entire situation and look at what exactly is going on,” he said. “Hopefully, she will realize there is some importance in having a relationship with her parents.”
Schooler said the Madisons did assist their daughter with her finances but stopped years ago. And, in regards to the claim the couple let their daughter’s molester into the family home, Schooler said the Madisons have no facts that she was ever molested.
“But secondly, assuming that fact is true, the parents had no knowledge this had ever happened,” he said. “She did not disclose this to her parents.”
Recently, the athlete began telling media outlets of the incident without providing details. It was referenced in an online article that was featured Friday on CNN.com. In the article, which highlights her post-Olympic plans, she said the sexual assault happened but is not her sob story.
Jo Ann and Robert Madison have long maintained they are private people, but the lawsuit offers a very public view into the family dynamic.
“Throughout her childhood, and into adulthood, Robert Madison and Jo Ann Madison have provided Tianna Madison with a loving, supportive and generous environment, that has enabled her to achieve success as a sprinter, including her obtaining a gold medal in the 2012 Olympic Games, as well as achieving success in other athletic endeavors,” the complaint said.
But, they contend, all of that changed March 17.
According to the complaint, on that day Bartoletta indicated for the first time to the Madisons that their daughter was planning to sue them for mismanaging her finances and abusing their power of attorney. The complaint said Bartoletta had hired a bodyguard to protect his wife.
Jo Ann and Robert Madison were shocked by the allegations, which they contend were unfounded and untrue. No such lawsuit has ever been filed.
After that call, the Madisons allege in the lawsuit that Bartoletta or their daughter would call them repeatedly with accusations of improprieties.
The complaint said Tianna Madison and her husband were shopping a story and prewritten article in regards to the athlete’s life with her parents around to several media outlets, including the Plain Dealer, which eventually ran an exclusive blog written by Tianna Madison leading up to her Olympic debut.
That article was the first time the parents had learned of the molestation incident in high school, they have said.
Around that same time, a Plain Dealer reporter contacted the Madisons at their Elyria home and indicated he had received the story, but the newspaperwas not publishing it.
Still, the lawsuit said Tianna Madison continued with her pursuit to have her story told and on Aug. 11 sent a text message to her parents telling them that after the Olympic games “she would ‘break the story’ of the Madisons’ ‘selfish, controlling and utterly abusive ways and treatment’ of her, and that ‘it was going to be brutal.’ ’’
The accusation is in contrast to how Robert Madison said his daughter was raised at the citywide rally held in her honor. In a video posted after the event on chroniclet.com, Robert Madison talks candidly about their family life.
“When Tianna was young, and Christina, we trained them to read the word, love the Lord, love people, take care of people, take care of your community and the community would give back to you,” he said. “When you train them this way, how to do their studies and have a good work ethic, it carries over into their athletics and academics.”
Dozens of supporters signed a banner for the Olympic hopeful during the rally, and it was ferried to London by her parents, who watched in the stands as she won on race day. They did this even though it was reported in several media outlets that they were estranged from their daughter.
Mayor Holly Brinda, who helped organize the local celebration, said she was unaware of any family issues when the planning for the rally started.
“My intent was to celebrate the local accomplishments of a woman who is a role model for the young citizens of Elyria,” Brinda said. “Citizens were calling. The general public was calling, asking us what we were going to do.”
Brinda said around the same time, Jo Ann Madison came to her office and asked if the city could help with a rally. Tianna Madison also reached out to Brinda in a personal phone call.
“She mentioned to me that she was estranged from her family but didn’t want to penalize the city of Elyria in celebrating her accomplishments,” Brinda said. “She wanted to participate and that is how it came about that she sent us the email that I read during the rally.”
Brinda said she has since told the mother and daughter she would help facilitate a conversation if they wanted her help. That offer, she said, was made from the standpoint of one mother to another.
“I understand how important the relationship is between a mother and a daughter, and I really hope the family can mend fences,” she said. “Family is very precious.”