Attorneys for some of the men who sued Ohio State University over decades-old sexual abuse by a team doctor argued Tuesday that a federal appeals court should overturn a judge’s dismissal and let the lawsuits continue toward trial.
But a lawyer for the school contends their claims were made years too late. If the doctor’s behavior and Ohio State’s inaction during his tenure were as egregious as alleged, he argued, the students knew enough that, legally speaking, they should have started looking into further recourse back then.
Hundreds of alumni have alleged the late Dr. Richard Strauss abused them throughout his two decades at the school, and that Ohio State officials knew of complaints but failed to stop him. The university publicly apologized and said it has tried to respond with transparency and empathy while trying to resolve the cases through settlements, which so far total more than $60 million for 296 survivors.
A judge dismissed most of the unsettled cases, acknowledging that abuse occurred but agreeing with the school’s argument that the legal time limit for the claims had long passed. Two groups totaling more than 100 survivors appealed that decision, contending the two-year window for that didn’t start until the allegations were brought to light in 2018 when the men began to speak out and the school hired a law firm to investigate.
Most didn’t recognize their experiences as abuse until then, and any who did recognize it earlier still didn’t know until a few years ago that the university was a cause of the abuse through its inaction, an attorney for the plaintiffs argued Tuesday before a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The students didn’t know during Strauss’ tenure that OSU’s indifference allowed abuse to continue because the school concealed its complicity, including by not reporting allegations to authorities and by hiding the findings of disciplinary proceedings against Strauss, attorney Ilann Maazel told the judges.
Exactly what school leaders knew while Strauss was working there was a question the university said it was trying to answer when it announced its investigation in 2018, Maazel noted.
”And if they didn’t know in 2018, how on earth did students and teenagers know that in the 1980s and 1990s?” Maazel said.
The lawyer representing the university, Michael Carpenter, said Ohio State sought to dismiss the claims not out of disrespect toward the alumni or their allegations, but because the window for the men to file such Title IX claims was decades ago, when the abuse was occurring.
“They knew they were telling folks about it, and it was still continuing on,” Carpenter told the judges. “They knew it was pervasive. And they knew it was affecting them.”
The men have alleged that Strauss abused them during required physicals and other medical exams at campus athletic facilities, a student health center, his home and an off-campus clinic, and that complaints were raised as early as the late 1970s.
Strauss died in 2005. No one has publicly defended him.