COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State reached an unspecified settlement with nearly half of the roughly 350 men alleging university officials ignored complaints and failed to stop a team doctor who they say sexually abused athletes and other students throughout his two decades there, the school revealed Friday.
It is the first settlement for accusers of the late doctor, Richard Strauss.
Ohio State wouldn't disclose the dollar amount but said in a statement that a special overseer independent of the university will help allocate the funds to individual accusers based on their experiences and the harm done. Those payments will come from "existing institutional discretionary funding," not tuition, taxpayer or donor money, according to the school.
"Legal advocates for 83 individuals abused by Dr. Richard Strauss expressed dismay today that the Ohio State University announced a settlement with some survivors involved in separate litigation without offering any details about what is contained in the University’s settlement offer," attorney Scott Elliot Smith said.
Rick Schulte, a lawyer who represented former Ohio State football players, wrestlers and other athletes, said the settlement helps the men move forward and heal.
“The bravery of our clients is humbling," Schulte said in the statement shared by the university. “We are pleased that Ohio State stepped forward and did the right thing.”
Lawsuits by other Strauss accusers remain unresolved after months of mediation, and they have asked a judge to let them resume litigation. The most vocal among them have argued for a settlement costly enough to convey that Ohio State and schools can’t let such a situation happen again.
"The legal team representing survivors of abuse by Dr. Richard Strauss in the Snyder-Hill and Khalil cases against Ohio State was excluded from the settlement negotiations that Ohio State claims have resulted in a settlement with some survivors today," Smith said.
Smith said the Snyder-Hill and Khalil team is extremely concerned that this is not a full and fair settlement for survivors.
"For over 40 years, OSU has allowed survivors too suffer in the shadows. Today, they released a secretly negotiated settlement, reached without giving every survivor a seat at the table. It is hard to imagine how any settlement negotiated in this way could include sufficient compensation for all those who were abused by Dr. Strauss on OSU’s watch. By refusing to release any substantive details, OSU has failed to inform survivors if today’s settlement is a true opportunity to begin addressing some of the trauma and financial burden the University’s wrongdoing has forced upon them," Adele Kimmel of Public Justice, an attorney for the plaintiffs in these two cases, said.
Smith said it is imperative that Ohio State release details of any settlement immediately. He said any comprehensive resolution to the case must include a commitment to comprehensive changes to ensure future students are never put in harm’s way again by the university and offer true restorative justice to the men who suffered decades of trauma stemming from abuse on Ohio State’s watch.
“Strauss’ conduct was reprehensible, and the university’s failures at the time are completely unacceptable,” Ohio State President Michael Drake said in the Friday statement. “While nothing can undo what happened here years ago, today’s university has a responsibility to support our former students and alumni, and this initial settlement is another important step in the process of restorative justice."
Some of the accusers said they felt their federal lawsuits against the school were their only way to seek justice and accountability now because they can't confront Strauss, who died in 2005.
As more accusers came forward or sued, the university learned of about 1,500 alleged instances of decades-old sexual misconduct by Strauss, and old records and new interviews revealed a much different portrait of him than his unblemished employment file.
Alumni began sharing stories of being groped during mandatory medical exams, and one former athlete described being drugged and raped. Other ex-athletes recalled a voyeuristic doctor who showered in their locker rooms and was joked about as “Dr. Jelly Paws.”
A law firm investigation conducted for the school concluded Strauss sexually abused young men between 1979 and 1997 in solo medical exams at campus athletic facilities, the student health center, his off-campus men’s clinic and his home. Though concerns were raised with athletics and student health officials, none reported Strauss to authorities.
When the State Medical Board of Ohio eventually investigated him in 1996 after he complained about another physician, credible evidence about Strauss’ sexual misconduct was ignored and, inexplicably, no action was taken against him, according to a state panel’s review of the old investigation.
No one has publicly defended Strauss as dozens of men have recounted how the abuse has caused long-lasting harm to their health and relationships.
Their lawsuits against Ohio State alleged it violated the federal Title IX law that bars sex discrimination in education. The university initially argued those claims were time-barred by law.
Beyond the litigation, Ohio State and some of its former employees face more scrutiny.
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has said it is examining whether the school responded "promptly and equitably" to students' complaints.
And the State Medical Board of Ohio is reviewing whether there are any licensed Ohio doctors who knew or suspected Strauss' misconduct and should have reported it but didn't. If so, they could face disciplinary action, though Ohio’s window for criminally prosecuting that has passed.
The medical board also is reviewing about 2,000 closed cases of alleged sexual misconduct or impropriety by doctors over the past 25 years to determine whether any others involved evidence of criminal behavior that was ignored.
Strauss' personnel records indicate he worked at five other schools before Ohio State. None of those has said any concerns were raised about him.
The claims about Strauss are strikingly similar to allegations made public this year alleging decades-old abuse by another sports doctor who worked at the University of Michigan during the same era.
After news of the settlements broke, ABC6/FOX28 sat down with former student Stephen Snyder Hill who says his attorneys are still fighting.
"The harm, the trauma, the damage that the survivors have gone through, including myself, are no different than the harm, the trauma and the damage Michigan State and Penn State survivors went through," he said.
So far, the university and other attorneys aren't revealing any dollar figures about these settlements to ABC6/FOX28, saying settlement money will come from existing institutional discretionary funding.
"Surprise because OSU has not talked to us at all, so by them coming out with a press release on a Friday to be able to say this is somewhat settled, it is not, they are playing a game," he said.
Attorney Steve Estey released this statement on behalf of the Brian Garrett class action group:
"We are pleased to see that Ohio State settled with a group of individual abuse victims that, for various reasons, valued their claims differently than victims at PSU, MSU, or other groups in this case. We will continue to insist on full compensation for our clients, who suffered extreme physical sexual abuse and life altering trauma. As the only group that has filed a class action lawsuit, we also will act to ensure that OSU victims who are not ready to come forward yet will also be compensated in a settlement, and that institutional change is implemented so this never happens again. In the meantime, we call on OSU to negotiate fairly and in good faith on behalf of our clients, all of the other victim groups in this case, and those who have yet to come forward."
You can read the Ohio State University's full release on the subject on their website.