Michigan Missed Indicators of an Abusive Physician

According to a report by the law firm WilmerHale released Tuesday afternoon, employees at the University of Michigan Sports and Health Department overlooked warning signs and did not stop the serial sexual misconduct of former school doctor Robert Anderson.

The university hired WilmerHale in March 2020 to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against Anderson and the reaction patients received from other staff when they filed complaints about Anderson. Investigators interviewed more than 300 former patients and more than 200 university employees during a 14-month investigation before releasing a 240-page report on Tuesday. They found that Anderson had committed sexual misconduct “countless times” and that those in authority heard certain allegations and rumors about Anderson’s wrongdoing but did not stop him from abusing others.

“We will carefully and carefully examine and evaluate the results, conclusions and recommendations of the report,” said University President Mark Schlissel in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. “”[A]And we will work to regain the survivors’ trust and ensure we create a safe environment for our students, our staff, and our community. “

To give the investigation some independence, university directors were not allowed to review or read WilmerHale’s findings until the report was released on Tuesday. A university spokesman did not answer any further questions on Tuesday about the administration’s response to the report.

Anderson worked at the University of Michigan from 1966 to 2003. For most of his school years, he worked closely with the sports department, treating athletes’ injuries and performing annual physical exams. Hundreds of former patients – many of them former Wolverine athletes – now say that Anderson sexually abused and molested them in various ways while treating routine medical problems. In interviews and court documents, Anderson’s former patients say the doctor assaulted them, petted them and made a number of inappropriate sexual comments, along with many other examples of wrongdoing.

Anderson died in 2008 before claims of abuse became widespread.

The WilmerHale report found eight cases of patients sharing concerns about Anderson in some form from the 1960s. They found eight other cases of athletes saying they raised concerns about Anderson to the sports department staff. Investigators also found that many other employees were aware of vague rumors about Anderson’s behavior.

“We have also heard of more than a dozen additional cases of sports officials hearing jokes or rumors about Dr. Anderson’s investigations, some of which highlighted Dr. Anderson’s propensity to conduct sensitive investigations for no apparent medically appropriate reason,” the company said the report. “Still, no one in the sports department appears to have realized what they heard as evidence of abuse or initiated any inquiries into Dr. Anderson’s behavior.”

Thomas Easthope, a former student union vice president, couldn’t stop Anderson after hearing explicit complaints about “fooling around with boys” in 1978 or 1979. Easthope has reported to police over the past few years that he fired Anderson after receiving complaints, but WilmerHale’s review found that Easthope signed documents in 1980 approving a raise for Anderson. According to investigators, Easthope received another complaint about Anderson in late 1980. Anderson was transferred from his position in the University Health Service to a position in the sports department in July 1981, where he cared for patients for an additional two decades.

Complaints about Anderson resurfaced in the summer of 2018 when former wrestler Tad Deluca wrote a letter to current Michigan sports director Warde Manuel about his experience with Anderson. Deluca first raised concerns about Anderson’s behavior in 1975 as part of a list of problems he included in a letter to wrestling coach Bill Johannesen and sporting director Don Canham. He said he was told to try again to report Anderson after hearing reports of former Michigan state doctor Larry Nassar convicted of sexual misconduct.

Deluca’s 2018 letter eventually sparked a police investigation, raising further questions about missed opportunities to stop Anderson’s abuse. He is one of the few former Anderson patients who tried decades ago to warn university and exercise officials about the doctor. The list of university employees allegedly informed about Anderson also includes current head coach for sports, Paul Schmidt, two former coaches, a university psychologist and revered former soccer coach Bo Schembechler. In addition to a former student worker who said he raised Schembechler’s concerns in the 1980s, investigators were told by three former members of the soccer team that they had told the coach that they had a problem with Anderson’s treatment.

Canham and Schembechler both died years before these reports were published. Johannesen and the coaches denied that athletes complained about Anderson. Schmidt told police in December 2018 that he had never seen Anderson do anything inappropriate. He didn’t respond to multiple attempts to get in touch with him after former players accused him of laughing at Anderson’s reputation for performing frequent rectal and hernia exams. All of the sports department employees interviewed by WilmerHale investigators declined to receive reports or complaints about Anderson.

Several lawyers representing former Anderson patients said Tuesday’s report confirms what their clients have been saying for more than a year.

“The WilmerHale Report confirms that the University of Michigan has known about Anderson’s sexual abuse behavior for decades and has not taken appropriate steps to protect its students, athletes, and individuals from a sexual predator they have known about for forty years.” said attorney Parker Stinar, who represents Deluca and more than 100 other clients who say they were abused by Anderson.

Around 20 different law firms have filed civil suits against the university and its administration on behalf of nearly 900 clients who claim they were abused by Anderson. The university said last April that it hopes to develop a process to address allegations of Anderson’s abuse outside of court in order to provide “safer and faster relief” to survivors. The university has not yet released details of its proposed procedure.

Attempts to resolve the complaints through mediation began last October, but so far these efforts have been unsuccessful. Other cases in recent years of university doctors sexually abusing their patients have been settled with large sums of money. The state of Michigan paid $ 500 million to resolve hundreds of cases related to Nassar’s abuse. Southern California paid more than $ 1 billion in total to settle claims related to former university gynecologist George Tyndall.

Attorney Mike Wright, who also represents a large contingent of Anderson’s former patients, said he did not want to comment on how the report might affect the settlement talks. He said he thought the report was glossing over the actual details of Anderson’s “perversion” and that his clients were annoyed to read about the missed opportunities to stop him.

“Some are angry. Some are disappointed,” Wright said. “The university had an opportunity to stop Dr. Anderson from harassing a lot of athletes, and they didn’t.”

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