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Lawyer: University of Michigan reaches $490M abuse settlement

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Emma Winowiecki
/
Michigan Radio
Survivors gather around a podium during a press conference in June 2021.

The University of Michigan has agreed to a $490 million settlement with hundreds of people who say they were sexually assaulted by a former sports doctor at the school.

Attorney Parker Stinar said Wednesday that 1,050 survivors will share in the settlement, which was reached the night before.

“I am proud to announce that a settlement was reached with the 1,050 survivors of Robert Anderson and the University of Michigan,” Stinar said. “It has been a long and challenging journey, and I believe this settlement will provide justice and healing for the many brave men and women who refused to be silenced.”

In a statement released Wednesday, the university confirmed the settlement agreement:

"Pending documentation and approval by the U-M Board of Regents; approval by 98% of the claimants, as recommended by their attorneys; and approval by the court, the cases would be resolved for $490 million. Of that total, $460 million will be available to the approximately 1,050 claimants, and $30 million would be reserved for future claimants who choose to participate in the settlement before July 31, 2023.

Claimants and their attorneys will be responsible for deciding how to divide the $460 million among the claimants. U-M will have no role in this process."

"We hope this settlement will begin the healing process for survivors," said Jordan Acker, chair of the University of Michigan Board of Regents. "At the same time, the work that began two years ago, when the first brave survivors came forward, will continue."

Anderson worked for the university from 1968-2003; within that time, he worked as an athletic doctor and as director of the University Health Service. He died in 2008.

Survivors say Anderson sexually abused them in clinical settings: reputation was so well known, he had a nickname: “Dr. Drop-Your-Drawers.” Coaches and other university officials knew, some said, and not only did they not intervene — they joked about it. Some survivors claim U of M legend Bo Schembechler was fully aware of Anderson's abuse and did nothing.

For its part, the university has admitted that Anderson was an abuser. Even the former chair of the board of regents said that he too was harmed by the doctor, back when he wrestled for the university. The university has apologized.

But the criticisms by survivors and their supporters remain vocal. One prominent survivor, former football play Jon Vaughn, has been camping outside of the president's house on campus since October, in protest of the university's treatment of survivors during the mediation processes. Reports say the settlement requires that he vacate the premises by the end of the week. Vaughn had been waiting to see if President Mark Schlissel would come out and speak to him.

However, that isn't possible anymore, as the settlement comes just days after the university fired Schlissel for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a university employee.

Stateside: $490 million for Anderson abuse survivors
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Attorney Mick Grewal, who represented the Anderson survivors in this case and over 100 survivors in the case against former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, joined Stateside on Wednesday to discuss what the settlement means for his clients.

“I believe the settlement actually represents a victory for all survivors of sexual abuse,” Grewal said. “It’s an important step in obtaining transparency, accountability, and justice. […] Particularly in this case, it’s very unique that you don’t have the perpetrator there […] So, in order for them to have some form of justice, a settlement needed to be reached so they could move forward.”

The scope of the Anderson settlement is notable, with over 1,000 survivors being included. Grewal said he believes the uniquely large number of survivors who came forward contributed to their complaints being recognized.

“This is over three and a half decades,” Grewal said. “[...] Compared to other cases, even at Michigan State, […] this is twice the size, the scale is large. But I like to think, 1,000 people are going to get some form of justice.”

Elizabeth Abdnour is a Title IX attorney based in Lansing, who also joined Stateside to give a perspective from outside of the case about the settlement’s impact and the trend of sexual misconduct cases at U of M.

In comparing the cases of Anderson and Nassar survivors, Abdnour said she thought the settlements were similar. Both were litigated for many years and allocated money in a similar way, reserving some for survivors who may come forward after the agreement had been reached.

“From my view, it looks like it’s following a similar path,” Abdnour said. “There was a lot of push back from the institution for quite some time and then I think at a certain point the institution — likely related to other events that had happened recently, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was connected with the removal of Mark Schlissel — they decided it was not going to be something they were going to fight anymore.”

Grewal said he does not believe the removal of former U of M president Mark Schlissel was a major factor in the settlement being reached Wednesday morning.

Abdnour also said this case both illuminates an issue with sexual misconduct at U of M, but in academia more broadly.

“One thing it certainly does do is show there does seem to be a pervasive problem with sex discrimination and improper response to reports of sexual misconduct at U of M,” Abdnour said. “[...] You do have these groups of folks whose jobs are very, very protected, much more so than folks in other industries, and to me the common denominator is academia.”

With the majority of Anderson survivors being men, Abdnour said she thinks the case has illuminated that they can be victims of sexual misconduct as well.

“There are many, many men that have been sexually abused, both by men and women,” Abdnour said. “I give a lot of credit to these survivors for coming forward because that’s not a conversation that we as a society are comfortable with. Coming forward as a survivor if you’re a man is going to open you up to questions about your masculinity, about your place in society, about if you’re weak or strong. I think this case has given all of us a picture that this can and does happen to everybody.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's broadcast license.

Emma is a producer for the digital content team at Michigan Radio. Her duties span all things web-related, from news reporting and photography to digital fundraising and graphic design. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
Emma Ruberg joined Michigan Radio in January as the Digital News Intern. She recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a double major in political science and communications and previously worked as a Senior News Editor for The Michigan Daily covering government and public safety.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.