University of Michigan Admits Football Doctor Sexually Assaulted Students, But Says Victims Have No Standing to Sue School

In a Friday court filing, the University of Michigan (UM) said that lawsuits filed against the school in relation to the sexual misconduct of a sports physician who worked for the school during the 1970s must be dismissed.

Investigations into the behavior of Dr. Robert Anderson began after Athletic Director Warde Manuel received a letter from a former UM wrestler alleging sexual misconduct by Anderson, who died in 2008. Over 100 complaints have been filed against the school in relation to Anderson's behavior, resulting in approximately 40 lawsuits filed against the school in federal court.

While the school acknowledged the "sad reality that some of its students suffered sexual abuse at the hands of one of its former employees," UM also said the plaintiffs waited too long to file suit.

"Plaintiff's claims—which involve a perpetrator who has been dead for 12 years, who has not been employed by the University for 17 years, and who assaulted him years ago—are barred by the three-year statute of limitations," UM claimed in the court filing.

"The university acknowledges the credible allegations made by former students that Robert E. Anderson abused patients at the university decades ago," said UM spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald in a statement sent to Newsweek. "It stands ready to address the harm he caused through a resolution process that is fair and timely and respects the privacy of those who have suffered. We believe that such a resolution process—including monetary relief—will be the most efficient and productive way to resolve these matters."

However, UM believes that lawsuits filed against the university should be dismissed.

"The University does not here question Plaintiff's claim that Anderson abused
him or the harm he suffered as a result," the court filing read. "Indeed, the University stands ready to compensate Plaintiff through a resolution approach it will be developing in the coming months. But the statutes of limitations and sovereign immunity prevent him from recovering damages in court. Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed."

university of michigan
University of Michigan officials said Friday that people filing suit against the school for sexual abuse that occurred during the 1970s failed to do so within the statute of limitations. Gregory Shamus/Getty

After receiving the letter detailing Anderson's abuse, Athletic Director Warde notified UM's attorneys. Warde's actions violated UM policy, as his first move should have been to notify UM's Title IX investigators of the allegations of sexual misconduct.

According to the Department of Justice, Title IX is designed to prevent sexual discrimination in any educational program or activity.

Warde's actions may have allowed UM's legal team the opportunity to begin preparing for the case.

"The University of Michigan not following their own policies indicates they were covering something up," said attorney Parker Stiner, legal counsel for the letter's author, to the Detroit Free Press in April. "Certainly it shows they wanted to approach the Anderson case differently than other cases."

UM President Mark Schlissel and the UM Board of Regents said in a March statement that they were "sorry for the pain caused by the failures of our beloved University. The allegations that have surfaced sadden and disgust us."

To that end, UM said in Friday's court filing that it was "determined to acknowledge and reckon with that past and, to the extent possible, provide justice—including in the form of monetary relief—to Anderson's survivors."

"The university recognizes the harms [Anderson] caused and is committed to developing a fair, just, timely, and efficient resolution process—one that does not require drawn-out litigation," Schissel said in a statement.

However, attorney John Manly told the Free Press that the University's decision to try to circumvent the courts was "sadly predictable."

"It's disappointing to see the Regents trying to rely on the statute of limitations to dismiss these cases when university officials knowingly hid the truth from Anderson's victims for 30 years," Manly said Friday. "UM's move is sadly predictable and should incentivize the Legislature and governor to enact statute of limitations reform to allow all Anderson's survivors to have their day in court."

Updated 3:56 p.m. EST 05/04/2020: This story has been updated to include a statement from the University of Michigan.