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A class action complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Thursday against the University of Michigan for its handling of allegations of sexual assault against former University doctor Robert E. Anderson. The complaint, in order to prevent and respond to sexual violence on the U-M campus, seeks a court order that will require the University to carry out major reforms surrounding the school’s best-practice policies and procedures related to sexual and gender-based abuse on campus.
“The patient-physician relationship involves a solemn commitment and trust,” the complaint reads. “Without trust, how could a physician expect patients to reveal the full extent of their medically relevant history, expose themselves to the physical exam, or act on recommendations for tests or treatments? For decades, the University of Michigan allowed and enabled a physician in its employ, Dr. Robert E. Anderson to continuously violate that solemn trust.”
The complaint, which lists a series of reforms and best-practices, states that the University needs to implement more training and education, and add additional policies for how to identify, prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based assault. It also seeks to appoint an “independent monitor” to oversee the implementation of these policies and report on progress to the court.
Some lawyers representing plaintiffs, like Annika K. Martin, made statements providing support to victims of Anderson.
“Everyone who was abused by Robert Anderson – including those who may not be ready to come forward – deserves an opportunity to hold U-M accountable and have their voice heard,” Martin said. “U-M has repeatedly failed to implement policies that put students first, and accordingly this complaint seeks relief through the court to ensure they will.”
Led by LSA junior Josephine Graham, the complaint is a companion to a suit filed in March 2020 by survivors of abuse at the hands of Anderson. The complaint alleges the University and its Regents enabled Anderson’s sexual abuse of students from 1968 until 2003.
“The Anderson case is one of many at U-M rooted in the university’s pervasive and broken culture mirroring our greater society,” Graham said in a press release. “Gender-based violence is a complex, systemic issue that requires systemic solutions to prevent and eradicate it.”
More than 70 individual lawsuits have been filed in federal court, but the class action suit, unlike the individual lawsuits which only represent specific plaintiffs, seeks to prosecute the University on behalf of all students affected by Anderson — even those who may not be ready to come forward.
Since October 2020, the lawyers representing the University and the lawyers who brought the original class action suit have been in negotiations. A settlement could cost the University millions of dollars in damages to the hundreds of alleged victims of Anderson’s abuse.
The law firm WilmerHale completed their independent investigation of the allegations against Anderson last week. The investigation concluded that there was “no doubt” about the fact that the hundreds of complaints against Anderson were credible and Anderson exhibited a consistent pattern of misconduct. The report outlines recommendations for the University to follow in order to improve upon their practices and procedures regarding sexual assault.
In an email to the Daily, U-M spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote that while the University issues its sincerest apologies for the abuse that occurred under the late Robert Anderson, the recent lawsuit has no legal standing. Broekhuizen wrote that Anderson has not been employed by the University since before the majority of the incoming Class of 2025 was born in 2003 and the University has adopted dozens of policies to prevent actions like Anderson’s from being repeated since then.
“Many members of our community are now a part of the formal effort to improve the culture of the institution even further as it relates to sexual and gender-based misconduct through a process that engages the community in the co-creation of change, across all entities on our campuses.” Broekhuizen wrote, “We look forward to working with representatives of all members of our community, especially students, to reach that goal in the coming months.”
Summer Daily News Editor Jared Dougall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org