Ten more former students have sued Ohio State University over alleged sexual misconduct by a now-dead team doctor, accusing school officials of facilitating abuse by ignoring complaints and requiring some athletes to get physicals from him to maintain their sports participation and scholarships.
The case filed Thursday is the third federal lawsuit brought by men alleging sexual abuse by Dr. Richard Strauss, who worked at Ohio State from 1978 until he retired in 1998.
“Beginning his very first year of employment at OSU — and spanning his entire two-decade tenure — Dr. Strauss preyed on male students, fondling, groping, sexually assaulting, and harassing them. He did so with OSU’s knowledge and support,” the lawsuit said, adding that many of the students didn’t speak up then because they were embarrassed or unsure whether it was abuse.
The lawsuit accuses the university of having “a culture of institutional indifference” about students’ safety and rights and failing to appropriately address Strauss’ behaviour in violation of federal Title IX law, which bars sex discrimination in education.
An independent investigation is ongoing at Ohio State, which says it’s committed to learning the truth.
The allegations that people at Ohio State didn’t respond appropriately “are troubling and are a critical focus of the current investigation,” university spokesman Benjamin Johnson said.
All three lawsuits seek unspecified monetary damages, but unlike the first two, the newest case doesn’t propose to represent all Ohio State students mistreated by Strauss.
“Our clients think that they’re entitled to an individual response from the university and individual accountability,” said Jack Landskroner, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The plaintiffs include Steve Snyder-Hill, who lodged a complaint in 1995 about being inappropriately touched by Strauss during an exam at the student health centre and recalls being told that Strauss denied it. Ohio State has a record of that complaint and the response sent by the health centre’s director, who said it was the first such complaint he’d received about Strauss.
Another of the new plaintiffs, former wrestling team captain David Mulvin, said he was fondled by Strauss during an exam and complained back in the late 1970s to another Ohio State doctor, but nothing came of it.
The lawsuit describes the other plaintiffs — most of whom aren’t named — as members of the tennis, soccer, basketball and track and field teams during the 1980s who repeatedly experienced sexual misconduct by Strauss. In some cases, it says they complained to their coaches or trainers about his behaviour.
Some former wrestlers have said the same thing and directed their most vocal criticism at Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, who was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State from 1987 to 1995. The Ohio congressman, who on Thursday launched a long-shot bid to become the next House speaker, denies wrestlers’ claims that he knew about abuse when he was coaching.
Strauss killed himself in 2005. His relatives have said they were shocked by the sexual abuse allegations against him.
His employment records released by the university referenced no reprimands or disciplinary action over any such concerns.
Since Ohio State announced the independent investigation in April after allegations were brought forward, more than 100 former students have provided firsthand accounts of sexual misconduct by Strauss. The allegations range from 1979 to 1997 and involve male athletes from 14 sports, as well as his work at the student health centre and his off-campus medical office.
Ohio State has urged anyone with information to contact the Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie’s investigators, who are looking into the allegations, what university officials knew and how they responded to any concerns about Strauss. They also are reviewing whether Strauss examined high school students.
Kantele Franko, The Associated Press