Tad DeLuca, a survivor of sexual abuse by Dr. Robert Anderson, called on the University to take stronger restorative action at a press conference in front of the Big House on June 16. Maddie Hinkley/Daily. Buy this photo.

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On July 26, 11 days after the University of Michigan attempted to overhaul and reform its culture around sexual and gender-based misconduct with the creation of a new office, the counsel representing the survivors of abuse at the hands of the late Dr. Robert E. Anderson in the ongoing class action lawsuit against the University filed a response to the University’s motion to dismiss the complaint. 

Though more than 70 individual lawsuits only representing specific plaintiffs have been filed in federal court, the ongoing class action suit takes legal action against the University on behalf of all students affected by Anderson, even victims who may not be ready to come forward. 

The suit, which accuses the University and its regents of enabling Anderson to sexually abuse students from 1968 until 2003, seeks damages from the University. Since October 2020, there have been ongoing negotiations between the lawyers that brought the first class action suit and the University’s counsel. A settlement would likely cost the University millions of dollars in payments to hundreds of alleged victims of abuse — one of whom is Regent Ron Weiser (R). 

Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, The Miller Law Firm and Sauder Schelkopf, LLC, have filed two class action suits against the University. In March 2020, the first suit was filed on behalf of survivors of Dr. Anderson’s abuse, while the second suit, filed in May 2021, sought a court order for reforms to the University’s policy regarding sexual and gender-based misconduct. 

WilmerHale, a law firm hired by the University to independently investigate the allegations against Anderson, concluded in its report that there was “no doubt” that hundreds of complaints were credible and that a consistent pattern of misconduct existed. It also made recommendations to improve the University’s practices and procedures around sexual and gender-based misconduct, similar in scope to the recommendations laid out by WilmerHale in its investigation of former Provost Martin Philbert’s sexual misconduct.

The University argued in its motion to dismiss the complaint that plaintiff LSA junior Josephine Graham, who led the second complaint, needed “to wait until she has experienced sexual violence before bringing her injunctive relief claims.” However, the plaintiffs’ counsel’s rebuttal states, “In a dizzying catch-22, UM also appears to argue that if she had already suffered sexual abuse, that would preclude her standing as well”.

In their response filing, the plaintiffs’ counsel also stated, “U-M argues that no one—not former students, not current students, not this Court—has standing or authority to hold it accountable. That is not the law.” 

In an email to The Daily, university spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald from the Office of Public Affairs wrote that the university had no comment on the specifics of the litigation. Fitzgerald also cited the University’s recent attempts to reform and its plans to update its current policy in the near future.

“The university has, for many years, continuously improved its approach to addressing sexual misconduct including the announcement July 15 of a sweeping overhaul of its approach,” Fitzgerald wrote. “We also are in the process of revisiting our interim policy on sexual and gender-based misconduct, now that we have received updated guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. We anticipate finalizing that policy in the fall term.”

The response filing disparaged the University’s recent attempts to reform.

 “U-M has not been transparent to the University community and public about the scope and nature of the reforms they claim to have implemented, and offers no showing that they have made the type of best-practice policy and enforcement overhauls that Graham seeks,” the response reads.

Summer Daily News Editor Jared Dougall can be reached at jdougall@umich.edu.