Lawsuit alleges that for over three decades the University of Michigan allowed Dr. Robert E. Anderson to violate the trust of and sexually abuse young male student-patients
Lieff Cabraser, The Miller Law Firm, and Sauder Schelkopf, LLC announce that a class action lawsuit has been filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan against the University of Michigan and its Regents for allowing and enabling a University physician, Dr. Robert E. Anderson, to sexually abuse students while employed by the University from 1968 until 2003. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of former student-patients who allege Anderson used his position to repeatedly and regularly sexually assault University students in the guise of providing medical care.
The complaint details allegations that Anderson used his position, under the aegis and with the authority of the University of Michigan, to put students “in a place of complete vulnerability: naked or partially unclothed in a closed examination room with the expectation that physical contact would occur for medical treatment.” As the complaint notes, “[a]lmost immediately following Anderson’s hiring in 1968, UM received complaints from male students about Anderson sexually assaulting them during the course of putative medical examinations.” However, and horrifyingly, University of Michigan “ignored or suppressed these complaints, and in many cases retaliated against those who were brave enough to complain about Anderson’s misconduct,” and that “[d]espite knowing that inappropriate and predatory physical contact would occur, UM continued to give Anderson unfettered access to vulnerable students and the opportunity to abuse them.” As the complaint further notes, “[e]ven as numerous supervisors and administrators became aware of Anderson’s harmful conduct, UM put its reputation over the safety of its students. UM never terminated Anderson’s employment, even though it was clear he was unfit to treat patients.”
“UM valued and prioritized its own reputation over the safety of its own students, plain and simple,” states Lieff Cabraser partner Annika K. Martin, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case. “Instead of acting immediately on first learning of Anderson’s abusive behavior in 1968, UM protected Anderson and cloaked him in the authority of a respected medical professional, while ignoring and suppressing repeated complaints about him for three decades. To protect its reputation, UM knowingly put thousands upon thousands of UM students at risk of sexual abuse and the lifelong damaging effects such trauma has. That’s inexcusable.”
Indeed, as the complaint further alleges, the University “allowed Anderson to continue with his position as Athletic Physician, where he repeatedly sexually assaulted male student-athletes until he retired in 2003.” Perhaps even worse, “UM student-athletes were required to see Anderson as part of their athletic training.”
“It’s hard to overstate the breadth and depth of the conduct the University of Michigan appears to have facilitated for over three decades,” notes E. Powell Miller of The Miller Law Firm, who also represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Joseph Sauder of Sauder Schelkopf, who also represents many survivors in the Ohio State Dr. Strauss sex abuse litigation, stated. “These were not isolated incidents that occurred over a brief moment in time. This occurred for more than a quarter-century after and while the officials at the University were made aware of the violative conduct. We look forward to making sure these former students’ voices will finally be heard.”
In his role as Athletic Physician, Anderson treated members of the wrestling, football, and hockey teams for nearly every medical ailment, complaint, and injury as their UM-assigned internist. He served as one of their first medical points of contact no matter the injury or ailment at issue, including everything from a cold to broken bones. Indeed, student-athletes were required to see Anderson even when they were not injured; regular physicals and checkups with Anderson were required for all student-athletes. In all of these roles, and throughout the entirety of his employment with UM, it is alleged that Anderson regularly and repeatedly sexually assaulted, abused, and molested male students by engaging in nonconsensual sexual touching, assault, and harassment, including but not limited to medically unnecessary genital manipulation and digital anal penetration.
Further, because of Anderson’s leveraging of the inherent power imbalance between a physician and a young patient to mask completely inappropriate behavior as medically legitimate, and because of the University’s suppression and concealment of the claims that did occur, Anderson’s victims could not reasonably know until February of 2020 that the University had knowingly put them at risk of — and allowed them to be — sexually assaulted by Anderson. As the complaint observes, as a result of the power imbalance, culture of retaliation, and disguising of abuse as legitimate medical procedures, many of Anderson’s victims stayed silent about their abuse for years.
The lawsuit includes federal claims against the University of Michigan and its Regents for failing in their duty to protect the health and safety of their students, including protecting them from sexual assaults by University employees, as well as by failing to respond properly after assaults were reported; by ignoring and concealing complaints of sexual assaults by Anderson; by retaliating against those who did report misconduct by Anderson; and by failing to properly supervise Anderson and terminate him, as well as claims for fraudulent concealment and multiple violations of Title IX.
The lawsuit seeks injunctive and equitable relief, including monetary damages as well as orders requiring the University to establish and implement new policies and procedures for the prevention of and proper response to sexual violence on campus, to ensure something like this can never happen again at UM.
Annika K. Martin
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
E. Powell Miller
The Miller Law Firm, P.C.
Sauder Schelkopf LLC