Class-action lawsuit adds to UM sex assault fallout involving Anderson

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — University of Michigan officials violated federal law by putting students at increased risk of sexual assault, harassment and emotional trauma in the wake of a molestation scandal involving the late university Dr. Robert Anderson, according to a federal class-action lawsuit filed Thursday.

UM junior Josephine Graham of Ann Arbor filed the lawsuit and demanded that the university implement policies and procedures to prevent and respond to sexual violence on campus. Those policies could include a court-appointed watchdog to oversee reforms such as background checks for new doctors, training for employees about how to identify sexual assault and a tracking system to handle sexual assault reports, according to the lawsuit.

Dr. Robert Anderson, top, eluded scrutiny for alleged abuse of gay students and athletes over three decades. After being confronted by Associate Vice President Thomas Easthope, middle, he landed in the Athletic Department under former Athletic Director Don Canham, bottom.

The class-action lawsuit was filed one week after a university-commissioned report concluded that officials did not heed 'credible reports' of abuse by Anderson. The former head of University Health Service, and later, team physician for the college's Athletic Department, is accused of molesting more than 800 men during his tenure from 1966 to 2003. He died in 2008.

"U of M’s failure to have or enforce appropriate policies and procedures to prevent sexual violence on campus creates an environment in which current (and future) students face a real, immediate, and direct threat of sexual violence," Graham's lawyer, E. Powell Miller, wrote in the lawsuit.

In an email to The Detroit News on Thursday, university spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said: "While the University takes all concerns and reports of sexual abuse or misconduct seriously, we consider this new lawsuit to be completely lacking in any basis for legal action." 

"The University has offered its heartfelt apology for the abuse perpetrated by the late Robert Anderson. At the same time, we encourage members of the University community to remember that Anderson has not been employed by the University since 2003, which is the year in which most of the incoming freshmen in the Class of 2025 were born."

Broekhuizen said UM has since instituted policies and practices including developing a misconduct policy, implementing policy to prohibit sexual, romantic, amorous and/or dating relationships between teachers and learners; requiring one-time sexual misconduct training for all employees; mandating additional scrutiny of personnel records as tenure and promotion decisions are considered; and conducting criminal background checks for all new university employees, faculty and staff.

According to the lawsuit, university officials betrayed students' trust and exhibited a pattern of indifference to sexual harassment and abuse.

The university violated federal law that classifies sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination covered by Title IX, Graham alleged.

"Defendants’ continued failure to set appropriate sex discrimination policy, in light of U of M’s failure to address the substantial risk posed by a serial predator, creates a real, immediate, and direct threat of irreparable harm to plaintiff and the class," her lawyer wrote.

Graham wants a federal judge to order UM to implement and enforce policies and procedures designed to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

Those solutions could include:

• Instituting a policy that requires university officials to report incidents of student sexual assault to authorities.

• Requiring the university's board of regents to implement background checks for all new hires, including physicians who interact with patients.

• Verifying the credentials of all clinical personnel annually.

• Creating a system to allow for anonymous patient feedback.

• Providing students with information about how to recognize and report sexual harassment and gender-based violence by healthcare providers.

• Appointing an independent watchdog to oversee reforms and provide regular reports to the court.

Report: UM officials did not heed 'credible reports' of abuse by Anderson

The Anderson scandal has led to dozens of lawsuits since early 2000.

The university's 240-page report, commissioned and paid for by UM, concluded Anderson sexually abused patients, 90% of whom were men, on "countless occasions." 

Rumors about his inappropriate behavior in exam rooms with athletes and students who were gay began circulating almost immediately after he arrived on campus, according to the report issued Tuesday by the WilmerHale law firm. Although the report does not estimate any number of victims, UM is currently in mediation with about 850 accusers.

Staff Writer Kim Kozlowski contributed.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews