University of Michigan admits sexual assaults and is willing to pay, but says lawsuits must be tossed

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DETROIT — The University of Michigan explicitly admitted its former football team doctor sexually assaulted students, but said related lawsuits filed against it must be dismissed.

In a court filing late Friday, the university said it was coming to grips with the “sad reality that some of its students suffered sexual abuse at the hands of one of its former employees” and is “determined to acknowledge and reckon with that past and, to the extent possible, provide justice — including in the form of monetary relief — to (Robert E.) Anderson’s survivors.”

But that doesn’t mean those survivors have standing to sue the university, and any relief should come outside of the court system, the filing in U.S. District Court says.

The university announced earlier this year that it was investigating allegations of abuse by Anderson, who died in 2008. Numerous men have come forward publicly and in lawsuits to allege that Anderson molested them during medical exams during his decades-long career as a physician for the school’s athletic teams and at the university’s health service. The university hired an outside firm, WilmerHale, to do the investigation.

Anderson was closely involved in the school’s athletic department for decades, including helping famed athletic director Don Canham cut costs by requiring annual physicals and teaming with legendary football coach Bo Schembechler to set up an important drug testing program.

Anderson’s sexual assaults were so well known among Michigan athletes, accusers have said, that he earned nicknames — “Dr. Drop Your Drawers” and “Dr. Glove.” Anderson was known to give unnecessary rectal and testicular exams to students. He also allegedly traded sexual favors for letters to Vietnam-era draft boards establishing men as homosexual and thus making them eligible for a draft deferment.

The 38-page motion comes in response to more than 40 cases filed against the university. Several hundred people have called a university hotline alleging abuse by Anderson. Another group of victims, represented by the lead attorneys for the survivors of Larry Nassar, filed an intent to sue in state court late last month. Another group of Anderson survivors have not yet sued, but their attorneys have been in talks with the university.

“The University is eager to continue this dialogue as it assesses over the next few months the best approach to bring closure and resolution to these matters,” the university’s lawyers wrote. “That process will take time, but it has already begun.”

Despite the acknowledgement, U-M says Anderson’s victims have no standing to sue and their already filed lawsuits should be tossed out.

“Plaintiff’s claims — which involve a perpetrator who has been dead for 12 years, who has not been employed by the University for 17 years, and who assaulted him decades ago — are barred by the three-year statute of limitations,” U-M said.

Anderson’s survivors aren’t happy with U-M trying to settle all this outside of the court system.

“U-M claims it will ‘develop a process outside the court system,’ yet there is already a process in place, one created by the U.S. and Michigan constitutions: the U.S. federal court and the Washtenaw Circuit Court, where 46 Michigan men have already been seeking to be made whole from Dr. Anderson’s and U-M’s abuse,” said attorney Michael Cox, who represents Anderson victims who have filed suit, late last month when U-M announced its intent to work outside of the court system.

Recent history says any settlement with Anderson’s victims could get pricey — Michigan State University paid $500 million to Larry Nassar survivors, the University of Southern California paid $215 million to George Tyndall survivors and Penn State University paid $109 million to Jerry Sandusky survivors. Ohio State University recently reached settlement terms with about half of the Richard Strauss survivors, but terms were not released. Nassar, Tyndall, Strauss and Anderson were all doctors who were accused of sexually assaulting students, including athletes.

One attorney, John Manly, who represents Anderson survivors, said he wasn’t surprised by the move.

“It’s disappointing to see the Regents trying to rely on the statute of limitations to dismiss these cases when university officials knowingly hid the truth from Anderson’s victims for 30 years. U-M’s move is sadly predictable and should incentivize the Legislature and governor to enact statute of limitations reform to allow all Anderson’s survivors to have their day in court, It’s also why we have declined to file lawsuits and are going through the required claims process in order to hopefully resolve the cases absent litigation.”

Anderson’s abuse came to light when a former wrestler sent a letter to current Athletic Director Warde Manuel in 2018, telling of the abuse.

Once he got the letter, Manuel’s responsibility was to report it. He did — but not to the right people. “Manuel then forwarded this letter to representatives at the University of Michigan General Counsel Office, who forwarded the letter to (the Office of Institutional Equity,” a police report obtained by the Free Press under a Freedom of Information Act shows.

Manuel’s actions were not the correct procedure, according to U-M’s policy.

U-M’s policy on where reports of sexual misconduct should go is simple and straightforward.

“Responsible employees must immediately report any information they learn about suspected Prohibited Conduct to OIE or the Title IX Coordinator,” the policy says. “Failure by a responsible employee to timely report a suspected Prohibited Conduct may subject them to appropriate discipline, up to and including removal from their position.”

U-M has said Manuel’s action were OK because the letter was sent the same day from the university’s lawyers to its Title IX investigators.

In February, U-M President Mark Schlissel apologized to Anderson’s victims.

“As a physician, scientist, father and university president, I condemn all sexual misconduct, especially instances that occur under the purview of our public mission. This type of conduct is reprehensible — and whether it takes place now or took place in the past, it is unacceptable,” Schlissel said.


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