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On appeal, lawyers for Strauss victims say OSU shouldn’t profit from ‘deception’

Lawyers representing victims of decades of sexual abuse by an Ohio State University doctor asked a federal appeals court on Tuesday to overturn a judge’s dismissal of their lawsuit against the school.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson dismissed a Title IX lawsuit brought by the victims against the university, ruling that the statute of limitations for the decades-old offenses had long passed.

Ohio State – which has generally acknowledged the abuses of Dr Richard Strauss, who treated injuries and administered physical exams to male athletes before they could compete – urged the Court of Appeals judges of the Sixth Circuit to confirm Watson’s dismissal.

Ilann Maazel said on behalf of the plaintiffs that the court should overturn the dismissal. On the one hand, he said the university’s cover-up of Strauss’s conduct for years means the two-year statute of limitations should not begin until the victims know the extent of Strauss’s complicity. the university. In short, they didn’t know the university’s role allowing Strauss because of how OSU buried complaints against his doctor.

For two, he said the dismissal of the lawsuit effectively rewarded the state of Ohio for a cover-up well done.

“We shouldn’t let the university take advantage of its own deception,” Maazel said.

Between 1979 and 1996, Strauss sexually abused at least 177 victims, mostly men, usually under the guise of medical treatment, according to a 2018 investigation commissioned by the university. Eighty-four are listed as plaintiffs in the current case.

University staff had knowledge of Strauss’ conduct as early as 1979, but complaints and reports went nowhere until 1996. At that time, the university suspended Strauss from his athletics and athletics positions. student health, but allowed him to stay on as a permanent faculty member. Although he retired in 1997, the university awarded him an honorary title “emeritus” which he maintained until his death by suicide in 2005.

Mike Carpenter, an attorney representing OSU, said “today’s university” took action in 2018 when it learned of Strauss’ conduct. This includes providing free counseling to victims, a relatively modest settlement program, convicting Strauss and apologizing to his victims.

However, he called statutes of limitations a “fundamental principle” of law. The victims, he said, knew more than enough to bring a lawsuit against the university and could have done so between 1978 and 1998, depending on when they were abused.

The question of what the victims knew of their abuse is a central and complex issue in this case. Most of the abuse happened in a power dynamic. Athletes needed Strauss’s permission to compete, which could have implications for their financial purses. Moreover, the abuse came under the guise of medical treatment – ​​in at least one case, a hamstring injury led to Strauss fondling a man’s genitals. Thus, patients with no clinical history had to distinguish medical care from sexual abuse, as performed by an esteemed doctor who controlled their athletic future.

“Many victims never seek to question the behavior of doctors,” Maazel said. “There are many, many patients who don’t recognize a doctor’s sexual abuse.”

Title IX, a federal civil rights law, controls how federally funded schools must handle incidents of gender discrimination by college personnel. It does not have its own statute of limitations, so the law defers to state law on the underlying offense. In this case, it’s two years.

Stephen Snyder-Hill was not an athlete at OSU but an ordinary student who entered the student health center in January 1995, concerned about a lump on his chest. There he became one of the last known victims of Strauss’ abuse. Strauss gave him a testicular and anal examination and allegedly pressed his erection against his patient.

After Snyder-Hill filed a lawsuit, the university arranged a heated two-hour meeting between Snyder-Hill, Strauss and two university officials. It ended with an agreement that Snyder-Hill would drop his complaint if the university gave him his word that Strauss had not been the subject of similar complaints. One such official, Student Services Manager Ted Grace, later affirmed this in a letter to Snyder-Hill. Unbeknownst to Snyder-Hill, another student had complained about Strauss’ conduct a few days earlier.

Snyder-Hill is now the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. He attended closing arguments on Tuesday and later said he believed the judges were skeptical of the OSU.

“They’re so full of shit,” he said in an interview afterward. “Being in there was amazing.”

Drone footage from Ohio State University, courtesy of OSU.

In September 2021, Watson granted OSU’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. He blasted Strauss’ “unspeakable sexual abuse” and the university’s failure to protect its students. However, he said the statute of limitations left him no choice.

“Plaintiffs are begging this Court to hold the State of Ohio accountable, but today the legal system is failing plaintiffs as well,” Watson said. “The plaintiffs’ pain and suffering are neither questioned nor ignored by this Court; indeed, their claims call for a remedy.

He said they would need legislative intervention to bring their lawsuit properly.

A narrowly drafted bill to allow victims of Strauss to overcome the statute of limitations was introduced in 2019 but stalled after a few committee hearings. The Ohio Capital Journal reported in October that lawmakers said they secretly never intended to pass the bill and only held the hearings to give victims a forum to speak out publicly. their stories and press the OSU to settle the lawsuits. Several victims of Strauss say they were never told about this strategy.

At the time, the university quietly lobbied for the bill through the “Ohio Alliance for Civil Justice,” according to records obtained by student publication The Lantern.

Since last week, the OSU has reached settlements with 296 victims of Strauss for more than $60 million. That’s about $203,000 per victim. Maazel called this a “paltry” sum compared to the disturbingly established market of legal settlements stemming from serial sexual predators employed and enabled by universities.

For example, Michigan State University paid $500 million to settle lawsuits filed in 2018 by 332 alleged victims of abuse by Larry Nassar, which happened under the guise of medical treatment while he was a women’s gymnastics doctor at the level. academic and Olympic. That’s about $1.5 million per victim.

The University of Southern California paid $852 million last year to 710 women who accused campus gynecologist George Tyndall of sexual assault and said the university failed to respond properly, about 1 $.2 million per victim.

Earlier this year, the University of Michigan reached a $490 million settlement with about 1,050 people who alleged they were abused by Dr. Robert Anderson, or about $467,000 per victim. A university investigation revealed that Anderson had abused students for decades. While the university knew about the misconduct as early as 1978, it allowed him to work for the school until 2003.

In a statement, OSU spokesman Ben Johnson said all students who filed lawsuits had the option of settling. The school, he said, is a “fundamentally different university today” and has committed more resources to addressing sexual misconduct on campus.

“Beginning in 2018, the State of Ohio sought to uncover and acknowledge the truth about the abuses of Richard Strauss and the failure of the university at the time to prevent them,” he said. declared. “We offer our deepest regrets and apologies to all who suffered Strauss’ abuse.”

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