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Class Action Cert. Sought in Latest Sexual Abuse Claim Against University of Michigan

— March 10, 2020

The late Dr. Robert E. Anderson served the University of Michigan for nearly forty years. Less than a decade into his tenure, he was already suspected of sexual predation.

Another lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a former University of Michigan sports physician has been filed against the school.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the lawsuit—filed Monday a Detroit federal court—is seeking class action certification. Similar to two other suits filed last week, it names the university and its Board of Regents as defendants.

The request for class action certification was made by three law firms: Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, the Miller Law Firm, and Sauder Scheikopf.

The allegations, notes the Free Press, center on the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson, who was employed by the university between 1968 and 2003. Anderson is suspected of having sexually assaulted numerous student-athletes and community members, subjecting them to invasive and medically unnecessary examinations.

Annika K. Martin, an attorney with New York-based Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, told the Free Press her firm isn’t yet certain how many plaintiffs might be included in a class action.

The case has drawn parallels with Michigan State, where pedophile doctor Larry Nassar practiced unabated for nearly two decades. Image by Ryan J. Farrick.

“Given the length of [Anderson’s] tenure, we estimate it is going to be thousands,” she said.

The lawsuit states that the University of Michigan failed in its duty to protect the community from Anderson’s predation. As reported last week, another suit—filed by The Mike Cox Law Firm in Livonia, Michigan—alleged that the university had received complaints against Anderson as early as the 1970s. Yet instead of conducting an intensive investigation or terminating the physician, Anderson was demoted.

“UM had and has a duty to protect the health and safety of its students, and this duty includes protecting them from sexual assaults by UM employees, and responding properly if a sexual assault does occur,” the lawsuit states.

“UM violated this duty by failing to implement and enforce appropriate policies and procedures to prevent, and properly respond to, sexual assaults of its students; 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,” it says.

The lawsuit, adds The Detroit Free Press, suggests that Anderson used his position within the university to regularly and repeatedly victimize patients. While Anderson is said to have sexually assaulted gay community members, many of the suits filed in the past several months concern student-athletes, who undergo mandatory physical examinations.

Student-athletes who refused to undergo such examinations risked losing both their chance to participate in University of Michigan sports, as well as athletics scholarships. Given the social climate throughout much of Anderson’s employment, many of his victims were dissuaded from reporting that they’d been sexually abused by another man.

Furthermore, many victims said they were fearful that incurring Anderson’s wrath could lead to them losing their scholarships.

The lead plaintiff in the class action—referred to pseudonymously as John Doe—was a University of Michigan football player from 1989 to 1993. He was required to see Anderson at least a half-dozen times for physical examinations and medical ailments.

On each visit, Doe claims, he was assaulted.

“At each visit, Anderson ordered plaintiff to remove his pants or shorts and underwear,” the lawsuit states. “Then, with no explanation given—or consent offered—Anderson examined, handled, and fondled plaintiff’s penis and testicles. Anderson next instructed plaintiff to turn around, after which Anderson digitally penetrated plaintiff’s anus and probed his interior, causing plaintiff shock, pain and shame.”

Like patients of disgraced Michigan State University sports physician Larry Nassar, many of Anderson’s victims—despite feeling distinctly uncomfortable—trusted the doctor and assumed he was performing medically necessary tests.

“Despite his shock, pain and trauma, [Doe] rationalized Anderson’s abuse as part of normal medical protocol,” the lawsuit says. “Plaintiff believed that UM’s prestigious football team would provide the best possible doctors to care for its players. Plaintiff thus believed Anderson must have had a legitimate medical purpose for his examinations.”

BusinessWire notes that the lawsuit “seeks injunctive and equitable relief, including monetary damages as well as orders requiring the University to establish and implement” policies to protect current students from sexual assault.


Lawsuit seeking class-action status filed over alleged UM doctor abuse

Sexual Abuse Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against the University of Michigan by Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, The Miller Law Firm, P.C., and Sauder Schelkopf, LLC

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