University of Michigan, victims of sports doctor to enter mediation
The University of Michigan and potentially hundreds of victims of former university doctor Robert Anderson will enter mediation in September, according to discussions held in federal court Tuesday. A federal judge also ordered a law firm hired by U-M to run an independent investigation outside of the lawsuit process to show up in her courtroom to discuss their investigation.
There have been eight days set aside in September for formal mediation. There are currently more than 70 cases filed in federal court. Lawyers for those who have filed those suits told U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts there are hundreds of others who have yet to file lawsuits against Anderson.
U-M has said it is interested in settling with Anderson’s victims but had been pushing for that settlement to occur outside of the federal court system.
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. Stephanie Parker of law firm Jones Day, which represents U-M, told the court U-M said that investigation should be complete before the end of October.
Roberts said she would issue an order banning U-M from making mass outreach to any potential Anderson victims. U-M announced earlier this month it would send letters to 300,000 alumni asking for anyone who was assaulted by Anderson to contact WilmerHale. Roberts said she wanted to understand more about how the WilmerHale investigation was being conducted at the same time as the federal lawsuit.
The lawyers for those suing U-M said WilmerHale should not be doing anything to interfere with the suits and the whole process should go through the court system. Those lawyers are worried U-M, through WilmerHale, is guiding potential victims away from the lawsuit problems.
Attorney Todd Flood asked the court to order U-M to turn over WilmerHale’s notes and materials before the group hits mediation.
Roberts agreed she wanted more information about how the lawsuits and the independent investigation are overlapping.
“There’s no way on earth what we are doing here can be independent of what WilmerHale is doing,” Roberts said.
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.
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.
More: Archive papers show doctor’s ties to Bo Schembechler’s Michigan football program
More: U-M admits sexual assaults and willing to pay, but says lawsuits must be tossed
More: Michigan’s Warde Manuel mishandled Dr. Robert Anderson complaint by sending it to lawyers
U-M has explicitly admitted its former football team doctor sexually assaulted students, but has said in court filings, 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 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.
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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