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University of Michigan agrees to pay sex assault survivors $490 million

A now-deceased physician who worked at the university from 1966 until 2003 is said to have sexually assaulted over a thousand victims.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (CN) — University of Michigan officials announced Wednesday a $490 million settlement between the school and more than 1,000 claimants who alleged they were sexually assaulted by a former sports physician over the course of more than 40 years.

The agreement is pending approval by the University of Michigan Board of Regents, but the university said in a statement to the press that 98% of the claimants have agreed with the terms of the settlement and their payments will make up $460 million of the agreement. Another $30 million will be reserved for others who claim injury and choose to participate in the settlement before July 31, 2023. The school will have no role in that distribution process.

The settlement was reached under a confidential mediation process facilitated by the court-appointed mediator, Robert F. Riley, and overseen by U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts in the Eastern District of Michigan.

“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.”

The average settlement payment will hover around $438,000 but each claimant will be paid a different amount in accordance with the injuries they suffered.

"It’s been a long and challenging journey for these survivors and these brave men and women refused to be silenced," said Parker Stinar, an attorney based out of Colorado who represented hundreds of the victims.

Dr. Robert Anderson was a university physician from 1966 until he retired in 2003. He died in 2008. Anderson was also the director of the school's health service department and treated student-athletes, including football players, some of whom have come forward with their stories about the abuse.

Jon Vaughn, a former football player who played at the university from 1988 to 1991, shared one of the incidents he had with Anderson in a story published by Sports Illustrated. At the time, Vaughn was a freshman running back for the team coached by Bo Schembechler.

Vaughn described a time when his groin was injured, and Anderson saw an opportunity.

"I gave my first sperm sample my freshman year," he said. "He told me, I'm going to need a sperm sample in order to be able to treat you. This is the first time I've ever had to give a sperm sample in my life."

Anderson then assisted Vaughn with the process, telling him it was a medically necessary to obtain a usable sample.

The settlement comes during more turmoil at the beleaguered Ann Arbor-based university. On Friday, the school announced it removed Dr. Mark Schlissel as president, effective immediately, and replaced him with former school president Mary Sue Coleman as an interim leader.

Coleman said the settlement agreement with victims of Anderson was the correct action to take.  

“This agreement is a critical step among many the university has taken to improve support for survivors and more effectively prevent and address misconduct,” she said.

The board announced it will affirm Schlissel’s removal during a formal session on Feb. 17. In a statement, it also alluded to an investigation that revealed the reasoning behind the termination.

“On Dec. 8, 2021, via an anonymous complaint, we learned that Dr. Schlissel may have been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a university employee. After an investigation, we learned that Dr. Schlissel, over a period of years, used his university email account to communicate with that subordinate in a manner inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the university,” the statement said.

The Anderson settlement stands with several others negotiated in recent years over claims of gross negligence at college universities in the matter of policing sexual assaults.

Michigan State University agreed to pay $500 million to settle claims from hundreds of women who claimed campus sports physician Larry Nassar touched them inappropriately. That settlement in 2018 exceeded a previous settlement of more than $100 million at Penn State when assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of abusing at least 35 people.

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