Judge approves settlement between UM, student on sexual misconduct policies

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

A federal judge on Wednesday approved a settlement between the University of Michigan and a student that includes establishing a 30-member team to address and prevent sexual misconduct, university officials said Wednesday.

The settlement, approved from the bench by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, is part of a federal class-action lawsuit filed by UM student Josephine Graham, who alleged the university does not maintain or properly enforce sufficient policies and procedures for preventing and responding to sexual misconduct on campus.

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts

The lawsuit did not seek a financial settlement, but a change in the university's policies in response to the sexual misconduct scandal involving the late UM doctor Robert Anderson.

It is separate from the $490 million settlement announced in January with 1,050 people, mostly men, who alleged abuse by Anderson that began in the late 1960s and stretched over decades until the controversy publicly emerged two years ago. Anderson died in 2008.

Graham filed the lawsuit in 2021 after a UM investigation showed more than two dozen university officials were alerted to Anderson's behavior during his nearly four-decade tenure but did not stop him. Graham's suit demanded that the university implement policies and procedures to prevent and respond to sexual violence on campus.

"The Robert Anderson saga is a dark stain in the history of the University of Michigan, and the university has begun to take accountability for that in positive ways," said Jonathan Selbin, a New York-based lawyer who was a co-lead counsel for Graham. 

"This is about taking accountability to make sure something like this never happens again," Selbin continued. "This is s a really positive step in writing a new chapter at the university."

The heart of the settlement includes a Coordinated Community Response Team made up of community members, campus stakeholders, students and victims that will provide input and advice on future policies, procedures and prevention efforts related to sexual and gender-based misconduct, UM officials said. Experts have called the team a gold-standard in addressing and preventing sexual misconduct.

"This now puts the University of Michigan in a leadership role setting an example of how to dramatically reduce the risk the re-emegence of a sexual monster," said E. Powell Miller, a Rochester-based lawyer and another co-lead lawyer for the plaintiff.

The CCRT will include representatives from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses who will meet at least three times a year to advise the university on approaches to prevent and address misconduct.

“The creation of the Coordinated Community Response Team is another important step toward our vision of becoming a national leader in protecting our community from inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct,” President Mary Sue Coleman said in a statement.

Paul Brown, chair of the Board of Regents, added that the creation of the response team is another way UM will listen to survivors as the university considers and assesses its prevention efforts.

“This commitment is university-wide, shared by our entire board and by our president-elect, Dr. Santa Ono,” said Brown. “Ongoing community input will be critical in helping shape future policies as they are developed.”