Pilots say they, too, were molested by University of Michigan doctor
Detroit – A cargo pilot who regularly needed health checkups to keep his license contacted a University of Michigan doctor in 2000. He said he soon learned there was nothing routine about a visit with Robert Anderson.
He said Anderson told him to undress, put on a medical gown and get on a table, instead of simply checking the man’s vision, hearing and heart. He said the doctor touched his genitals and gave him a prostate exam.
“I was only 33; I probably didn’t need a prostate exam but I was naive,” the Ann Arbor-area man, now 53, told The Associated Press. “He examined my whole body like a dermatologist might. It was very creepy. It was too much. I didn’t go back. … You’re not touching me again.”
Anderson, who died in 2008, is at the center of a scandal at the University of Michigan, where he’s accused of molesting hundreds of young men over decades, especially campus athletes who saw him for exams. It’s been a year since the university acknowledged the “disturbing” claims and said a law firm would investigate.
Since then, another category of victims has emerged: pilots in southeastern Michigan who needed physicals to get or maintain a license.
For 40 years, Anderson was designated by the Federal Aviation Administration as a medical examiner in the region. It meant pilots, air traffic controllers and others who were required to have health exams could make an appointment with him. Indeed, documents obtained by the AP under a public records request provide a small window on that part of his work.
Anderson set his rates and had no financial relationship with the FAA. He proudly defended his skills when another doctor complained that he was performing too many exams and not grounding many pilots.
“I schedule two exams a day and two extra on Thursday evenings and three on Saturday,” he told the FAA in 1973. “This quite comfortably handles over 750 a year, if desired. … I have not approached this number, as your records will show.”
Anderson said he believed in a “complete examination.”
“A few have left me because they have desired less of a physical exam than I am willing to give,” he said.
It’s not known how many people in aviation will make assault claims about Anderson; they don’t have to step forward yet to become part of a likely class-action settlement with the university. But some already have joined the many lawsuits against the university by former students.
A pilot said he was molested for Anderson’s sexual gratification in 1988. Another pilot said in the same lawsuit that he suffered physically and emotionally as a result of abuse in 2001.
The FAA released roughly 160 pages of documents to the AP, though none showed patients making complaints about Anderson to the government. The records mostly were letters between the FAA and the doctor about physicals, training seminars and agency policies.
Lawyers who are suing the university are focusing on evidence that campus officials years ago were aware of allegations against Anderson. A supervisor, Tom Easthope, testified in a deposition last summer that he went to fire Anderson in the late 1970s after learning he was “fooling around with boys.” The doctor resigned as director of the university’s Health Service but continued to see athletes and others until 2003.
“It seems reasonable to think that U of M had a duty to report Dr. Anderson to appropriate licensing authorities and to take steps to ensure that he would no longer be able to victimize unsuspecting patients, whether they be students or other members of the community,” said Brian McKeen, a Detroit attorney not involved in the litigation.
The university has expressed a willingness to settle cases out of court. A federal judge appointed a mediator to work with all sides, a process that will last months.
A Jan. 28 court filing said there are possibly more than 850 victims, which would exceed the number of women and girls who were part of a $500 million settlement with Michigan State University over abuse by sports doctor Larry Nassar. Ohio State University has paid more than $45 million to 185 people who said they were groped by Richard Strauss, another sports doctor.
The AP generally doesn’t identify people who say they’re victims of sexual misconduct unless they have identified themselves publicly. The pilot who was interviewed said it “boggles my mind” that Anderson was allowed to keep working at the university after superiors learned about the allegations.
“It’s not like this guy was some kind of miracle doctor who had cured cancer and we’ve got to keep this guy no matter who he is or what he does,” the pilot said. “This is just a regular doctor who should have been fired a long time ago. There was no reason to cover this up.”
In 2003, five years before his death, Anderson told the government that he was retiring because a stroke had greatly affected his right hand.
“We wish to thank you for your contribution to air safety,” the FAA replied.