Deposition answers questions of how late UM doctor survived firing

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Five months after University of Michigan Dr. Robert Anderson was fired for allegations of sexual misconduct, the doctor's colleagues learned about a change in his employment. 

But the 1980 memorandum did not mention Anderson's dismissal. Instead, it outlined how Anderson would "step down" as director of University Health Service, remain on staff as a senior doctor and also serve as director in athletic medicine.

"We are extremely grateful for the high-quality administrative and medical leadership Dr. Anderson has provided during his years at Health Service," the memo says.

The memo was one of several documents that emerged in a deposition that was obtained by The Detroit News following a joint stipulation agreement filed late Monday in U.S. District Court.  

The deposition answers some of the questions of how Anderson survived a firing, landed another high-profile position, got a raise and remained employed by UM for another 23 years, allowing him to allegedly sexually abuse hundreds of students. 

Dr. Robert E. Anderson

The witness in the two-day deposition was Thomas Easthope, the former UM associate vice president for student services, who said he fired Anderson in 1979 after a colleague alerted him that Anderson had sexually assaulted numerous gay male students in exam rooms.

Easthope said he marched over to University Health Service in August 1979 and confronted Anderson with the allegations. The doctor did not deny the claims, and Easthope said he fired Anderson on the spot.

Decades later, during a 2018 UM police investigation of Anderson, Easthope told UM Police Detective Mark West he thought Anderson was gone from the university after he fired him. But he learned from West that Anderson had remained with UM for 23 more years after Easthope fired him, until his retirement in 2003. 

During those years, Anderson allegedly abused as many as 800 victims, mostly male students who have since come forward, according to lawyers close to legal proceedings that have ensued. That is one-third more than the 535 women and girls who said they were abused by former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.  

Easthope testified that he may have compared Anderson to Nassar when his daughter, who works at UM's University Health Service, spoke of the Nassar tragedy.

"I may have said, 'You know, we had to get rid of Bob Anderson because of that,'" Easthope said.

Parts of Easthope's deposition, which was videotaped July 28 and Aug. 4, were made public earlier this month, showing he testified that his boss, Vice President for Student Services Henry Johnson, overturned his decision to terminate Anderson.

Easthope also said he did not take steps to alert others about the physician, such as police, prosecutors or state licensing officials. He also failed to make sure Anderson's UM employment was terminated.

The full, 355-page deposition highlights numerous documents that begin to piece together Anderson's history at UM.

Annika K. Martin — a New York-based lawyer who is one of the attorneys appointed to represent victims in the case seeking class-action certification — said UM must be held accountable.

“Easthope’s testimony confirms that U of M’s most senior administrators were aware of Dr. Anderson’s misconduct yet gave him free rein to continue to abuse thousands of students," said Martin, who took part in the deposition.

"Not only was Anderson not fired, but he was protected, lauded, given a raise and allowed to stay and abuse his position of power for decades. All these victims deserve an opportunity to obtain justice and create lasting change to prevent this type of abuse from ever occurring again at UM.”

UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined to comment.

During the deposition, Easthope acknowledged that he did not document when he walked from his office in the Michigan Union, across The Diag, to dismiss Anderson at University Health Service, where the doctor was director. 

"What did you do actually to effectuate the firing," asked Cleveland-based attorney Dennis Mulvihill, who is representing 180 plaintiffs. "Did you fill out paperwork, did you call the university to stop his pay, what did you do?"  

Easthope said he couldn't recall.

"[T]hat bothers the hell out of me," Easthope said. "I've tried for these last couple weeks to figure out what the hell I did. I can't remember that. It's very frustrating for me because it would clear up a lot."

The deposition showed that Easthope typically would have authored a memo about an employee job change. But it was his boss who wrote the memo to Anderson's colleagues in 1980 and portrayed Anderson's departure.

Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who filed the motion to depose Easthope and led the questioning, asked Easthope why he didn't write the memo and inform the staff of Anderson's job status change. 

"Were you so mad and upset and angry that UM was keeping Dr. Anderson that you wouldn't sign any documents that would inform the staff about his change in status?" said Cox, who has filed more than 115 lawsuits against UM linked to Anderson.

Easthope replied that he would have written such a memo under normal circumstances.

"But if your boss intervened," Easthope testified, "what do you do, say, 'You can't do that?'"

Johnson recently has declined comment on the case. 

But Stephanie Parker — an attorney with Jones Day, the law firm defending UM —  noted during the deposition a section of a UM police investigation when the UM police detective interviewed Johnson.

"Henry Johnson told him, Detective West, that he did not know of any problems with Dr. Anderson and he does not remember you, Mr. Easthope, ever telling him about problems with Dr. Anderson," Parker said.

She asked Easthope if he agreed with the statement.

"I can't verify or deny," he said. "I don't know anything about it."

Not long after, Easthope said: "I told Henry Johnson."

Easthope is the first and so far the only witness to have given out-of-court testimony in the case involving Anderson, who died in 2008. The doctor has been accused by hundreds of alleged victims of sexual abuse, including some who were athletes or gay since February when The Detroit News reported that Robert Julian Stone accused Anderson of sexual abuse in the early 1970s. And even more victims could still come forward, Martin said.

"The number of victims, nobody knows," she said. "The true scope of the damage he caused it yet unknown. The are a numbers of others who are not ready to come forward."

The university has apologized, set up free counseling, launched an investigation with outside lawyers and said it wants to settle the claims out of court. Mediation began last week  with about two dozen lawyers representing plaintiffs and the university.

The documents in Easthope's deposition show that Anderson was surrounded by powerful UM officials who regarded him highly.

Besides Johnson, for whom Anderson was also a personal physician, Easthope said that former UM Athletic Director Don Canham may have played a role in protecting Anderson.

"Don Canham was a bigger man than Henry Johnson and probably 90 percent of the people up the hill," Easthope testified.

UM's president also had a page dedicated to Anderson in his 1979-80 annual report.

During the deposition, Cox presented Easthope with the president's report, which he described as a  "little bit like a high school yearbook where various classes would report on what they did, and then if a popular teacher or coach left, they would have an acknowledgment or preface at the beginning." 

Cox noted a page in the 1979-1980 president's report related to Anderson.

 "The University Health Service staff wish to acknowledge the eleven years of leadership provided by Dr. Robert E. Anderson, MD," says the report. "In January of 1980, Dr. Anderson resigned as director of the University Health Service."

The report explained Dr. Anderson resigned in 1980 so he could devote more time in his clinical fields of urology/andrology and athletic medicine at UM and in private practice.·

"During his tenure as director, he energetically developed many programs — his many contributions to healthcare acknowledged at all levels of the university community," the president's report said. "The University Health Service staff wish to thank Dr. Anderson for his years of leadership and to dedicate the annual report to him."

Cox asked Easthope: "Does that make you mad?"

"It sure as hell does," Easthope said. "And I would like to know who wrote it and where they got that information."

It was unclear who wrote the president's 1979-80 report, according to the deposition. UM was served by at least two presidents during 1979-80: Allan Smith served as UM's interim president in 1979; Harold Shapiro began serving as UM's president in January 1980.

Smith is deceased. Shapiro, who is an economics professor and president emeritus at Princeton University, told The Detroit News that he was never alerted to the behavior of Anderson.

Easthope also said he told Dr. Caesar "Cy" Briefer, who took over for Anderson after he was removed at University Health Service, but couldn't remember if he told Briefer the whole story about the allegations.

"Cy wanted to know what happened," Easthope said. "Cy and I became very good friends. We vacationed together, our wives hung around once in a while together, so we were friends, and I — he wanted to know what went on with Anderson and I said Anderson had been accused of da, da, da and that was it."

Briefer is deceased.

Besides failing to alert other investigators about Anderson, Easthope also acknowledged during the deposition that he didn't know the names of the victims, didn't talk with them after he fired Anderson, and only speculated as to how many there might be. It was also his understanding that Anderson was abusing gay male students, which Easthope depicted as a vulnerable subset of the UM student population.

Easthope also did not do an investigation when he learned of the accusations that were brought to him by Jim Toy, a Michigan pioneer in gay rights advocacy who once served as UM's paid on-staff gay advocate.

"I believed, I trusted Jim Toy to tell the truth because of his excellent reputation, and I knew that he was an advocate for the gay people on campus and he would not make those kinds of accusations unless he knew what he was talking about," Easthope said.

Easthope remained on the staff at UM until 1989, a decade after he fired Anderson. But he said he never saw the doctor on the field of the Big House, though he had season tickets. 

"And you're saying during that decade, you never saw Dr. Anderson, correct?" Cox said.

Easthope replied: "That is absolutely correct."

Lawyers Cox and David Shea sought an emergency motion in April to depose Easthope, 87, because he is one of the few people still alive and connected to at least one of the incidents involving Anderson. 

The deposition was under a protective order until Oct. 31 or the day of the public disclosure of the report by WilmerHale, lawyers the university hired to do an investigation. But under the stipulation agreement, signed by lawyers on both sides of the case, they agreed to lift the confidentiality agreement sooner.

Easthope's conversation with UM police in 2018 was the critical interview that led many to conclude the university knew about Anderson's behavior but allegedly covered it up. He told police that he fired Anderson, but his wife suggested that he may have been allowed to resign. 

At the time of the interview with West, Easthope said that he "did not realize the enormity of the consequences of that conversation," according to the deposition.

Within days of Easthope's firing of Anderson, a UM appointment change request form was filed showing that Anderson's role as head of University Health Service changed, according to documents Cox showed at the deposition.

One document showed that Anderson had an appointment in the UM medical school as a clinical instructor in internal medicine and a clinical instructor of surgery.

But his position of director of University Health Service had a line drawn through it on a change request document dated Aug. 13, 1979. Someone hand-wrote in, "senior physician, Health Service." His salary changed from $53,220 to $46,000. The notation for the change date was Jan. 13, 1980, five months after Easthope said he fired Anderson.

Cox presented another document, a notification of open position worksheet, and Anderson's name appears on it with an appointment effective Jan. 14, 1980. "Resuming former position" was listed on the document for the reason. Below that was a method of entry section, which was circled and darkened indicating a demotion.

Later in the year, another appointment change request form was generated for Anderson on June 27, 1980, with the title of senior physician, Health Service.

"So at least six months after you fired him, this form says that he is still senior physician at the Health Service," Cox asked Easthope.

The form also showed that his salary would change effective Sept. 1, 1980, from $46,000 to $49,680 annually, illustrating that a year after Easthope says he fired Anderson, he remained at the health service and was getting a salary increase.