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Ex-student sues UM, alleges official cut a deal to let doctor stay after sex abuse

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

A former University of Michigan student is contradicting the account of a previous UM official and how he handled a report of sexual abuse by Dr. Robert Anderson.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court against the university, the man says he told Thomas Easthope, then UM’s associate vice president for student services, in 1979 about a sexually inappropriate encounter with Anderson in an exam room earlier that year. 

Easthope told the student that he confronted Anderson, then head of University Health Service, and the doctor did not deny the incident, according to the lawsuit. Instead of firing him, Easthope offered a deal to the student to move the doctor to a job at which he wouldn't come in contact with students, according to the suit. 

The allegation contradicts what Easthope, now 87, told UM police in 2018, that he either fired or allowed Anderson to resign in 1979 when he got reports of the doctor behaving inappropriately in exam rooms with male students.

Dr. Robert E. Anderson

The former student, who isn't named in the lawsuit, says he and Easthope shook on the offer, yet Anderson continued to treat and allegedly abuse UM students for another 24 years as team physician for the Athletic Department until retiring in 2003.

"I was lied to and manipulated, and others paid the price,'” the man is quoted in the lawsuit.

The accusation adds a twist to the history of how UM officials allegedly handled reports of sexual abuse by Anderson. Though the doctor died in 2008, his 35-year tenure at the university has engulfed UM in a sex abuse scandal that has led to scores of other lawsuits filed against the university, mostly by other men.

The man's allegations are counter to what Easthope told UM Police Detective Mark West in November 2018, according to a university police report.

"Easthope said he has trouble remembering all the conversations and circumstances, but said he 'will never forget walking across the campus to Health Services to fire Bob,'" according to the police report.

UM launched the police investigation shortly after former UM student Tad DeLuca wrote a letter in July 2018 to Athletic Director Warde Manuel and detailed alleged sexual abuse by Anderson.

West's report, which included interviews with scores of people, didn't become public until February of this year, when Robert Julian Stone accused Anderson of sexual assault in a story published by The Detroit News.

A key finding in the report was the account from Easthope, who revealed that UM had learned of sex abuse allegations against Anderson more than 20 years before the doctor retired from the university.

Easthope told West he confronted the longtime head of the University Health Service about reports that Anderson was “fooling around” with students in exam rooms and recalled either firing or allowing Anderson to resign in 1979.

Easthope has been ordered to give testimony in a deposition next month in lawsuits from dozens others who accuse Anderson of abusing them. Easthope’s lawyer asked a judge this week to delay the deposition.

Easthope and his lawyer, Jennifer Z. Belveal, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Thursday that "we have nothing to add at this time."

According to the lawsuit, filed by former state Attorney General Mike Cox and Southfield-based lawyer David Shea, the alleged victim enrolled in the UM Honors College as a freshman in 1977 and struggled with his identity as a gay man. He came out in his junior year.

He began volunteering at the UM’s Human Sexuality Office, now the Spectrum Center,  in activities such as the gay men’s hotline. He also became aware of a Monday night program where University Health Service medical staff gave confidential counseling and treatment to the gay community.

That is where the plaintiff met Anderson in fall 1979. He filled out paperwork and identified himself as gay. During the exam, Anderson allegedly performed a sport physical on the man's genitals, according to the lawsuit. 

"However, after this initial sports-like physical exam, Anderson moved in closer to the standing plaintiff, who still had his pants down," according to the lawsuit.

Anderson allegedly moved closer and discussed masturbation.

"The stunned plaintiff did not know how to react to Anderson’s talking about masturbation but noticed that Anderson’s arms/shoulders were moving up and down while Anderson’s hands were in the area of Anderson’s groin," according to the lawsuit. "The plaintiff realized that Anderson was 'playing with himself' as he described his masturbatory habits to plaintiff and Anderson’s 'breathing became heavy.'"

Anderson continued with the exam as though nothing had happened, according to the suit.

"Soon after this exam by Anderson, plaintiff mentioned the assault at the after-hours clinic to a gay student he knew," according to the suit. "This student stated, 'It sounds like you saw Dr. Anderson. Everyone knows about him. He always cops a feel.'" 

Shocked, angry and concerned about other gay students, the man reported Anderson’s to the UM-paid gay male advocate who served as the coordinator of UM’s Human Sexuality Office, the suit says.

"The advocate told plaintiff that his experience was 'very similar' to a prior complaint about Anderson sexually assaulting a gay male student at UHS, but that UM ended up doing nothing because it viewed it as a 'he said, he said' situation when Anderson denied the prior assault," the lawsuit stated. 

The advocate asked the man if he was willing to file a formal complaint. When the man agreed, they took it to Easthope, who listened, apologized and said he needed to investigate, according to the complaint.

During a second meeting, Easthope told him that he spoke with Anderson, who did not deny the man's allegations and offered an apology, according to the suit.

"Easthope continued with ... 'My first thought was to fire him.  But he has a family and kids,'" according to the lawsuit. "Easthope then stated ... that if Anderson was fired, then both he and his family would suffer financially." 

The suit then alleges: "Easthope then offered the following proposal to resolve Plaintiff’s claim:  'Would it be OK with you if he is removed from his medical duties and moved to an administrative position where he would not see students within the university setting?'” 

The student had mixed feelings about the arrangement, according to the lawsuit.

"Although plaintiff viewed Anderson and his actions as 'loathsome and repulsive,' the plaintiff had 'some degree of empathy toward him,'" according to the lawsuit. "Plaintiff viewed Anderson as 'possibly gay himself, but so damaged that he could violate his oath as a physician.'”  

The student verbally agreed to Easthope’s proposal, according to the suit, and the two shook hands. 

"Easthope told plaintiff 'thank you for having the guts to come forward,'" according to the lawsuit. "Plaintiff never thought to follow up on his agreement with Easthope because, in plaintiff’s mind, Easthope was a high-ranking UM official, and there was no reason to distrust someone like that, especially at the UM, the university that plaintiff has loved for decades."

One month after Anderson's behavior became public in February, West contacted the man about his complaint to Easthope in 1979, according to the suit. The UM detective told the man he had found his name in UM documents.

Afterward, the man did an internet search and found news stories of men accusing Anderson of sexual assault.

"Among the news accounts plaintiff read Mr. Easthope’s claim of 'firing' Anderson," the lawsuit said, "and this misrepresentation of what happened is especially distressing to plaintiff because he learned that Mr. Easthope and UM did not honor their agreement with plaintiff."

He was stunned.

"In 1979, I told the University of Michigan what had been done to me at the UHS in order to spare other students the indignity, pain, and shame that I’d experienced," the man is quoted in the suit. "Now I know that I was not successful, and so legal action is a way of completing the work I thought I finished 40 years ago.”