University of Michigan to Pay $490 Million to Settle Abuse Cases

On Wednesday, the University of Michigan said it would pay $490 million to more than 1,000 people who accused a doctor who worked with football players and other students of sexual harassment.

The agreement, one of the largest among U.S. universities to settle sexual assault allegations, was forged in private conversations that concluded this week, more than three years after a former student wrote to Michigan’s athletic director alleging misconduct from 1970- x years.

This former student, and eventually scores of others, said that Robert E. Anderson molested them during medical exams, many of which were supposed to be in athletic programs in Michigan. In some cases, investigators concluded, Anderson had conducted examinations that were unnecessary and incorrect; for example, he insisted on a gynecological examination of a woman who complained of a sore throat.

Credit…Robert Kalmbach/University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, via Associated Press

Last June son of Bo Schembehlerthe football coach, who died in 2006 and remains a myth on the Ann Arbor campus, said he too was one of Anderson’s victims.

“The University of Michigan has accepted financial and other liability for the harm Anderson caused to so many young people that could have been avoided,” Jamie White, a lawyer for many of Anderson’s victims, said in a statement. “The university should be praised, not condemned.”

He added, “Most of our clients loved the university very much and didn’t want to see irreparable damage, but they wanted accountability.”

In February 2020, Michigan said it was investigating if Anderson abused students and asked people who believed they were victims to come forward. By then, authorities had been secretly investigating for more than a year after a former student sent a letter to Michigan’s athletic director accusing Anderson of wrongdoing.

Michigan’s request for information resulted in more than 100 reports in two weeks. Last May, a law firm hired by the university concluded that Anderson, who died in 2008 and was never prosecuted for any kind of abuse, “had repeatedly engaged in sexual harassment of patients.”

At least some university officials were aware of concerns about Anderson as his career progressed; one told investigators that he went so far as to fire the doctor. (Investigators noted that a few months after Anderson’s alleged dismissal, the same university executive approved Anderson’s pay increase.)

Schembechler’s son, who said he had been abused by a doctor, said the coach ignored his account of it in 1969; his claims could not be independently verified.

Anderson retired in 2003. However, in recent years, his former patients have described decades of prolonged trauma, from reluctance to undergo intrusive medical examinations to a persistent sense of shame.

The allegations against Anderson, as well as Michigan’s knowledge of and responsibility for his misconduct, led to a spate of lawsuits against the university and, after months of negotiations, an announcement on Wednesday.

In the past decade, universities have agreed to pay huge sums to settle abuse cases. IN 2013, Pennsylvania State University said it would pay nearly $60 million to more than two dozen victims of Jerry Sandusky, a longtime assistant football coach. Michigan State University reached a $500 million settlement in 2018 to compensate the victims of physician Lawrence G. Nassar. Ohio State University agreed to pay over $46 million to people who said that Richard H. Straussthe team’s longtime doctor, abused them.

And the University of Southern California invested over $1.1 billion in connection with the misconduct of gynecologist George Tindall.

Michigan’s disclosure of the Anderson settlement came less than a week after the board of regents removed the university’s president. Mark S. Schlisselfor a relationship with a subordinate that he said occurred “inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the university”.

The regents are among those yet to approve the settlement, which covers about 1,050 applicants and was reached through mediation, the university said.

In a statement Wednesday, Jordan Acker, chairman of the board, said Michigan officials “hope this settlement will begin the healing process for survivors.”

The university is facing increasing pressure to fully reckon with its history. Former Michigan runner John Vaughn began camping near the university president’s residence in October, and rumors circulated in the State Capitol about laws that could make Michigan more vulnerable in the courts.

Michigan said Wednesday that $460 million in the settlement will be made available to people who have already filed lawsuits and that the university’s lawyers will not take responsibility for distributing the money. Instead, a retired federal judge is expected to oversee payments to victims.

A spokesman for the university did not respond Wednesday to an inquiry about how Michigan would pay for the settlement.

White said in an interview on Wednesday that he briefed his clients on settlement talks during a video call this week. He suggested that they were generally in favor of reaching an agreement.

“Of course, there is a desire to end this,” White said, adding: “It’s not in anyone’s interest to drag this out for another three years of litigation.”

The remaining $30 million in the settlement will be reserved for people who can make claims against Anderson by July 31, 2023.

“This is one piece of the puzzle that allows them to get some healing and some closure,” said Michael L. Wright, another attorney for Anderson’s victims. “I don’t think this financial settlement is going to get them everything about the closure, but I think they need to let them know that Michigan took responsibility, that Michigan knew they let down these athletes and students, and they are trying to help. them through this process.