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Report: U. of Michigan missed chances to stop doctor’s abuse

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Staff at the University of Michigan missed many opportunities to stop a doctor who committed sexual misconduct for decades with long-term consequences for hundreds of patients including student athletes, a law firm hired by the school reported Tuesday.

The long-awaited report by the WilmerHale firm comes more than a year after former students publicly accused the late Robert Anderson of molesting them during routine physicals or other visits. Some university officials at the time took no action despite being aware of complaints.

Their failure to act allowed Anderson to continue working for the university and see patients until his retirement in 2003, attorneys for the firm wrote.

“He continued to provide medical services to student athletes and other patients — and to engage in sexual misconduct with large numbers of them — for the rest of his career,” the report said.

A January court filing indicated there could be more than 850 victims, which would exceed the number of women and girls who were part of a $500 million settlement with Michigan State University over abuse by sports doctor Larry Nassar. Ohio State University has paid more than $45 million to 185 people who said they were groped by Richard Strauss, another sports doctor.

University health administrators failed to intervene and stop Anderson’s misconduct despite multiple explicit reports to Thomas Easthope, who was then the Assistant Vice President of Student Services and oversaw UHS.

Easthope has claimed he confronted Anderson and fired him, but that was not true, the report said.

“Despite having heard about Dr. Anderson’s misconduct, Mr. Easthope himself signed documentation related to Dr. Anderson’s continued employment at UHS in January 1980 and approved a salary increase for him in or around August 1980,” the inquiry found.

Easthope died in February.

Coaches, trainers and other staff in the university’s athletic department also did not raise concerns about Anderson, despite rampant rumors and even jokes among student athletes about the doctor’s behavior.

“The fact that no one took meaningful action is particularly disturbing in light of the nature, scope, and duration of Dr. Anderson’s misconduct,” the report said in reference to athletics.

The university has acknowledged Anderson’s abuse but turned to the law firm for an independent, comprehensive review of what happened during the doctor’s long career. He died in 2008.

WilmerHale said 600 people made reports to the firm about their experiences with Anderson; 300 agreed to be interviewed. Although most victims who have stepped forward or filed lawsuits have been men, the report said women were also abused.

“The medical experts we consulted confirm what many patients suspected: Dr. Anderson’s conduct was not consistent with any recognized standard of care and was, on the contrary, grossly improper,” according to the report.

The university said it received the report at the same time it was released publicly.

“We will work to regain the trust of survivors and to assure that we foster a safe environment for our students, our employees, and our community,” President Mark Schlissel and the Board of Regents said in a written statement.

The university has expressed a willingness to settle lawsuits out of court. A mediator is working with all sides.

Washtenaw County prosecutors first received the police department’s report in late April or early May of 2019. A prosecutor concluded that summer that no criminal charges could be authorized because the primary suspect had died and none of the offenses were within Michigan’s six-year statute of limitations.

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