‘Mendacity:’ Ohio State doc’s sex abuse victims mount appeal of lawsuit dismissal
Excerpt from Richard Strauss’ personnel file at Ohio State University. Courtesy of the Cleveland Jewish News.
Scores of victims of decades’ worth of sexual abuse from Ohio State University physician Richard Strauss have mounted an appeal of a court ruling that dismissed their lawsuit on the grounds that the statute of limitations has passed.
The plaintiffs, led by OSU alum and abuse victim Stephen Snyder-Hill, argued their case never should have been dismissed. They said the statute of limitations, a ticking clock between alleged abuse and when a lawsuit must be filed in response, should have been delayed given the university’s cover-up and Strauss’ methods concealment of the crime.
Between 1979 and 1996, Strauss sexually abused at least 177 mostly male victims, usually under guise of medical treatment, according to a 2018 investigation commissioned by the university. Eighty four are signed on to the case.
“He disguised abuse as medical exams, provided medical reasons for his work, calmly allayed any patient questions or concerns, and took advantage of young, vulnerable, inexperienced students who reasonably believed his actions were medically necessary,” the victims wrote in their appeal.
They argued OSU “skillfully duped” its students for decades; its “mendacity” shouldn’t be a path to shield itself from accountability via the civil statute of limitations.
Strauss, they said, disguised his abuse as medical treatments. And as OSU’s own investigation shows, university officials knew about Strauss’ abuse as early as 1979 and failed to intervene for nearly two decades.
“OSU was equally cunning in hiding its complicity,” plaintiffs wrote. “It lied to students, shredded documents, whitewashed Strauss’ personnel record, falsified Strauss’ employment evaluations, failed to inform students, the public, the Medical Board or the police of Strauss’ misconduct, and lionized Strauss even after his death.”
In September 2021, U.S. District Judge Michael Watson dismissed the plaintiffs’ suit. He said it’s “beyond dispute” that the plaintiffs “suffered unspeakable abuse by Strauss” and that despite a bevy of complaints to doctors, coaches, and university officials, “Ohio State utterly failed these victims.”
However, he ruled that while they might not have known the full scope of Strauss’ abuse, each victim knew he was personally abused. No representation from OSU, Watson said, prevented them from bringing a lawsuit about their own claims.
The Strauss victims launched their appeal in October 2021. Their arguments, submitted Feb. 2, are the first fully laying out what they say were errors in Watson’s ruling.
The university has created a settlement program for Strauss victims. It has thus far paid out $57.8 million to 232 survivors and will continue to cover the cost of counseling and treatment for any victims, according to university spokesman Ben Johnson.
“Beginning in 2018, Ohio State sought to uncover and acknowledge the truth about Richard Strauss’ abuse and the university’s failure at the time to prevent it,” he said. “We are forever grateful to the survivors who participated in the independent Perkins Coie investigation, which could not have been completed without their strength and courage, and we offer our deepest regrets and apologies to all who experienced Strauss’ abuse.”
The OSU settlements amount to about $249,000 per victim. This settlement is far exceeded by similar arrangements from other universities who were found to have employed other serial, sexual abusers as physicians.
For instance, Michigan State University paid $500 million to settle lawsuits in 2018 filed by 332 alleged victims of Larry Nassar’s abuse, which occurred under guise of medical treatments while serving as a women’s gymnastics doctor at the university and Olympic level. That’s about $1.5 million per victim.
The University of Southern California paid $852 million last year to 710 women who accused campus gynecologist George Tyndall of sexual assault and said the university failed to properly respond — that’s about $1.2 million per victim.
In his dismissal of the case, Watson seemed to express sympathy for the victims and said their path forward “starts with the legislature, rather than the judiciary.”
As such, lawmakers introduced legislation and held hearings on it featuring victim testimony that would have retroactively waived the statute of limitations for victims of Strauss’ abuse. The legislation stalled out without ever coming up for a vote. Legislative leaders have since stated they used the legislation and related hearings to pressure OSU to settle with victims, but they didn’t intend to pass the bill. Victims told the Ohio Capital Journal they were never told of or invited to weigh in on this strategy.
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