UM reaches $490 million settlement with Anderson accusers

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The University of Michigan has agreed to a $490 million settlement with those who claimed they were sexually abused by the late university sports doctor Robert Anderson, ending one of the nation's biggest sex abuse scandals.

About 1,050 people, mostly men, will share in the settlement that covers allegations that began in the late 1960s and stretched over decades until the controversy publicly emerged two years ago. 

The settlement, which was first reported by The Detroit News, allocates $460 million for the approximately 1,050 claimants and $30 million for future claimants who choose to participate in the settlement before July 31, 2023. 

UM said in a Wednesday statement it will have no role in deciding how the money is allocated to Anderson's accusers, 98% of whom must sign onto the agreement for it to be approved. The Board of Regents also has yet to formally vote to approve the deal.

"Today was a victory for more than 1,000 victims of a horrendous predator and hopefully the beginning of UM’s acceptance of its role and a changed attitude,” said former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who filed the first lawsuit against UM and represented more than 100 accusers.

Michael Connelley, from left, consoles Robert Stone along with JP DesCamp. They have accused former University of Michigan doctor Robert E. Anderson of systematic sexual assault as they speak to the media in Ypsilanti on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

The settlement means that each accuser will get an average of more than $438,000. The exact amount, however, for each individual will vary depending on circumstances and be determined by the accusers and their attorneys.

The average for each accuser is roughly half that of each victim in the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State University. That historic $500 million settlement in 2018 involved more than 500 women. The exact amount for each victim was confidential and varied. But the first wave of women, 332, divided $425 million, for an average of $1.28 million each. 

UM interim President Mary Sue Coleman, appointed to the post over the weekend after former President Mark Schlissel was fired Saturday, said in a statement that the settlement agreement was the right thing to do.

"This agreement is a critical step among many the university has taken to improve support for survivors and more effectively prevent and address misconduct," she said.

In a virtual press conference Wednesday in which no university officials took questions, Board of Regents Chair Jordan Acker said UM's work to address the Anderson scandal is not complete.

"We have a solemn responsibility to our university and our community members," Acker said. "We must support healing and restoration of trust in an environment where safety is paramount. This agreement is an important step in that direction.

"The board and administration plan to accelerate additional efforts to work toward a campus with a positive, nurturing and safe culture."  

It is the largest legal settlement in the university's history, said UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald. It will be paid with university reserves and insurance proceeds.

"Over the years, the university has built up reserves from a variety of funding sources," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "The university will use these funds — excluding tuition and student fee receipts, gift receipts and state appropriation receipts — to supplement insurance proceeds to cover the costs of this settlement."

UM as of October had paid more than $28 million in legal and other costs tied to sexual assault allegations against Anderson.

The majority of the payments, $14.9 million, were the result of the ongoing litigation against the university, Fitzgerald told The News in November. UM has paid for legal fees, counseling for victims and an investigation since the first public allegation against Anderson emerged in February 2020.

The university has paid $12 million to the WilmerHale law firm, which was hired by UM in March 2020 to conduct an investigation into Anderson that led to a 240-page report in May. The report concluded that UM officials knew as early as 1975 that Anderson had been accused of sexual misconduct.

It showed more than two dozen university employees were told about Anderson's alleged behavior over his nearly 40-year career. While several employees reported the doctor after learning of complaints, the majority of the people his patients told — including some of the most powerful people on campus — did not act to stop the doctor, the report found.

"I hope in the near future University of Michigan would take more responsibility," said Bill Evashevski, a UM wrestler from 1976-78 who said Anderson assaulted him.

Anderson served UM from 1966 to 2003 as head of University Health Service and the team physician for the UM Athletic Department. He died in 2008.

More than a decade later, Robert Julian Stone approached UM and told school officials that Anderson sexually molested him during medical treatment while he was an undergraduate nearly 50 years earlier and coming out as a gay man. When he learned that UM police were investigating claims made by other men, he feared the university would bury the case so he shared his story in February 2020 with The News.

Stone said late Tuesday that the work to hold UM accountable has been stressful and emotionally draining.

"I’m so looking forward to putting this behind me,” he said.

Stone's story set off a firestorm, with others claiming that they also were subjected to Anderson's abuse, which ranged from fondling to forced masturbation to rape.

After Stone's accusation became public, UM's first police investigation emerged, showing that the university police department had been investigating Anderson for 16 months and a top university official, the late Thomas Easthope, was aware of accusations against Anderson in 1979. But the doctor was able to stay employed at the university.

The official photo of team physician Dr. Robert Anderson from the 1992 University of Michigan football media guide.

The allegations led to the first lawsuit, filed in March 2020 by Cox on behalf of a former UM wrestler who claimed Anderson abused him on at least 35 occasions in the 1980s. 

The claims grew to include other former student-athletes, pilots, medical students, gay men and a few women. 

Cathy Kalahar, who said a UM therapist told her she was lying when she accused Anderson of grabbing her breast while she was enrolled at UM in the mid-'70s, said she was happy a settlement was reached but sad Anderson's alleged abuse was allowed to go on for so long.

"I hope that they will include Anderson survivors in continuing to listen to the guidance we can provide in changing the culture," said Kalahar, one of the few women who alleged abuse by Anderson.

Okemos-based attorney Jamie White, who has represented accusers of Nassar and Anderson, said policymakers need to act in the wake of two widespread scandals in higher education in Michigan.

"It is time for the Michigan legislators to look at why two of the largest scandals in the history of the country — Larry Nassar and Robert Anderson — happened at Michigan's two largest universities," said White. "Other states have addressed this issue. It is time for Michigan leadership to do the same."

But one provision of the Anderson settlement is there won't be any more advocacy for two bills, inspired by Anderson, introduced by Michigan lawmakers last year, according to Cox. The proposed legislation, which had one hearing, would change the statute of limitations and a governmental immunity law to allow accusers to bring lawsuits against UM. 

A rally to advocate for the legislation planned for Thursday was canceled.

Regardless, state Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, said she would continue to advocate for the legislation because there are other victims who may want to come forward and they should be given the opportunity. No amount of money can be enough for the trauma that a sexual assault victim has survived, she said.

"Victims deserve justice," said Whitsett, who co-sponsored the legislation with state Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township. "Any amount of time that gives victims time to come forward is important."

Jon Vaughn, a former University of Michigan football player and accuser of former UM doctor Robert Anderson, pauses for a moment on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2021, before describing the sexual abuse he said he endured by Anderson. Vaughn has been camped in front of UM President Mark Schlissel's campus residence since Oct. 9 and Monday marked his 100th day of protest over how UM has handled the Anderson scandal and Schlissel's refusal to speak to him.

One other issue that evolved Wednesday was whether the settlement required former UM football player and Anderson accuser Jon Vaughn to take down his related protest encampment in front of the UM's president's house within the week. Vaughn has been protesting UM's culture around sexual misconduct at a campsite for 102 days.

Cox said the proposed settlement terms originally required Vaughn to do so, but Fitzgerald said later that wasn't the case.

"There is no deadline for Mr. Vaugh's departure from his protest in front of the UM President's House," Fitzgerald said. "His departure is not a condition of the settlement agreement, and we don't know when he will leave." 

Cox said UM must have dropped the demand. "That is great because that means they are being more sensitive to 1,000-plus  survivors,” he said. “They are recognizing that is a way of honoring them."

Reached by phone Wednesday, Vaughn said he is having surgery to remove cancer on Friday but plans to be back at the encampment full-time likely on Monday. He said he may stay another 100 days or even make it a 365-day protest.

"This is bigger than the Anderson victims," Vaughn said. "There is a culture of sexual abuse and safety that needs to change."

Okemos-based lawyer Mick Grewal called the accusers like Vaughn “brave” and said it was their actions that led to the settlement.

“Over two years of suffering now has reached a point where all the men and women can start to begin their healing journey,” said Grewal, who represented more than 250 Anderson accusers.