The University of Michigan is facing a proposed class action by a former Wolverines football player who alleges a school doctor sexually assaulted male student athletes.
The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, alleges the university violated its duty to protect students by allowing Dr. Robert Anderson to sexually assault thousands of athletes while employed by the university from 1968 until 2003.
It also alleges that the university learned as early as 1968 that Anderson was sexually assaulting students, but “ignored or suppressed” the complaints.
Other universities have been hit hard by similar accusations in recent years. Investigations into Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar’s systematic and long-running abuse of the young gymnasts under his care led the U.S. Department of Education to levy a $4.5 million fine against the school.
A $215 million settlement agreement between the University of Southern California and a class of 18,000 women received final approval in February, resolving claims that on-campus gynecologist George Tyndall sexually assaulted patients at the student health center.
Columbia University and Ohio State University are also defending against claims that administration officials failed to respond swiftly and appropriately to complaints of sexual misconduct by university doctors.
After receiving repeated complaints about Anderson’s behavior, the University of Michigan in 1979 transferred him from his position as athletic director to senior physician with the university health services, allowing him to continue to sexually assault students until he retired in 2003, the complaint asserts.
The lead plaintiff in the case, identified as John Doe, attended Michigan from 1989 until 1993.
As a condition of playing football, he was required to see Anderson several times for physicals and medical ailments, the complaint alleges, at which times he was sexually assaulted.
He briefly left the football team during his junior year to avoid another of Anderson’s “exams,” he says. The team motto of “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions” influenced his decision to return to the team, where he concealed injuries rather than report them to Anderson, he says.
Wave of Complaints
The class action filing comes after more than a dozen individual suits were filed against the university in the past week, also in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. One individual plaintiff, John Doe MC-13, says that Anderson used the “guise of medical treatment” to molest him while he was a member of the football team in 1975.
John Doe MC-8 alleges in his own individual lawsuit that his hockey scholarship in the 1980s put him in Anderson’s path. John Doe MC-14 was a member of the wrestling team when Anderson assaulted him, according to his complaint.
The University initially retained Steptoe & Johnson LLP for this matter but dropped the firm after learning that it represented “prominent clients” accused of sexual misconduct. The firm has previously represented financier Jeffrey Epstein and director Roman Polanski.
Continuing with Steptoe & Johnson “could discourage survivors hurt by Dr. Anderson from coming forward,” Mark Schlissel, the university president, said in a March 7 statement.
Cause of Action: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Relief: Class certification, damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.
Potential Class Size: The suit seeks class status for thousands of men allegedly abused by Anderson while participating in athletics at the university.
Response: A spokeswoman for the university said the school “share[s] the same goal of gathering all the facts, including understanding the full scope of the harm caused by Dr. Robert E. Anderson and the institutional failings of the university.”
Attorneys: Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP represents the proposed class.
The case is Doe v. University of Michigan, E.D. Mich., No. 20-cv-10629, 3/9/20.