Another lawsuit has been filed against Ohio State by former athletes including allegations of sexual assault by Dr. Richard Strauss, a former university physician.
In response to the independent investigation published May 17 that concluded Ohio State personnel knew about complaints related to Strauss but did not take action, a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court Wednesday by law firm Wright and Schulte on behalf of 37 former athletes who were Strauss victims. Michael DiSabato, a former wrestler and one of the first victims to speak out about Strauss, is the only named plaintiff.
According to the lawsuit, Ohio State officials who had the authority to take action against Strauss had information that suggested he posed “a substantial risk of sexual abuse” to male athletes on intercollegiate sports teams.
“These athletes have a variety of different issues that are the result of sexual abuse that they endured at the hands of Dr. Strauss,” attorney Michael Wright said.
In addition to examining the report released by Perkins Coie on May 17, the law firm has conducted its own investigation in preparation for the lawsuit.
Throughout the investigation, Wright said they found substantial evidence that university personnel should have acted on complaints involving Strauss, which Wright said was corroborated by the Perkins Coie report.
“At the end of the day, OSU failed the Plaintiffs and Strauss’ other victims in every imaginable way,” the lawsuit states. “It effectively gave Strauss a green light to prey upon male OSU students as he saw fit.”
The investigation conducted by Wright’s team also further revealed Strauss’ nature when dealing with his victims: Strauss attempted to disguise “prolonged genital exams” and sexual abuse with “differing medical explanations,” according to the complaint. However, due to Strauss’ position as a team physician, many athletes could not avoid seeing him.
“OSU funneled plaintiffs and other student-athletes to Strauss with assembly-line efficiency, whereupon Strauss cornered and sexually assaulted them,” the lawsuit states.
He worked to ensure athletes didn’t always follow traditional scheduling practices, seeing him in his private office or in his residence, which made it easier to cover up his abuse, according to Wright and the Perkins Coie investigation.
“Strauss was a tenured professor and a sports medicine doctor, a medical expert at Ohio State,” Wright said. “These student-athletes didn’t really question Dr. Strauss. They didn’t know whether or not his medical techniques or where he was doing these examinations was appropriate or not appropriate.“
Not only did the report corroborate the allegations made by his clients, Wright said, but it also confirmed for many of them the widespread nature of the abuse. It also validated the “institution’s fundamental failure,” as University President Michael V. Drake said in the May 17 statement, to protect them.
The release of the independent investigation into Strauss spurred the filing of the latest lawsuit.
“We were waiting, actually, on the Perkins Coie report,” Wright said. “Candidly, that report is giving a lot of survivors a voice now. They now know that people are listening. They do know that what they were complaining about, what they were dealing with, was actually real.”
How long the suit will take to resolve hinges on what legal action Ohio State takes in response.
“It depends on what stance the university takes,” Wright said. “If they’re going to defend, litigate this case, it could take a long period of time.”
University spokesman Ben Johnson referred to previous statements from President Michael Drake and Provost Bruce McPheron made the day the independent investigation was released in response to this lawsuit.
No monetary value has been placed on the lawsuit as of yet. However, the plaintiffs in this case are seeking more than money.
“[The clients] want to make sure that [university personnel] are more responsive to these types of sexual abuse allegations, that they have procedures in place that will quickly address these types of complaints,” Wright said. “That’s number one, so that it will prevent this from happening to any other group of student-athletes.”
A statement issued from Drake the same day as the report outlined steps the university has taken in the 20 years since Strauss’ retirement to combat sexual misconduct and abuse.
Most recently it announced the creation of the Office of Institutional Equity, which Drake’s statement called “a centralized office which includes additional staff and focuses on institutional prevention of all forms of discrimination and harassment.”