U.S. Supreme Court denies review of Ohio State University doctor sex abuse case

National high court decision leaves door open for survivors to continue litigation

By: - June 27, 2023 4:55 am

On the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

The United States Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal by the Ohio State University of case involving an athletic doctor found to have committed nearly 1,500 sexual assaults and at least four dozen rapes during his tenure.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case, more than 200 survivors of Dr. Richard Strauss’s actions can continue on with lawsuits against the university.

The lawsuits that were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Ohio State questioned whether the university was in violation of Title IX, which dictates the way in which universities address sexual assault allegations from university employees at institutions that are federally funded.

“Ohio State is disappointed by the United States Supreme Court’s decision not to review a case involving Title IX claims that has a significant legal impact on colleges and universities across the nation as well as their students,” OSU spokesperson Ben Johnson told the OCJ on Monday.

Strauss, who died by suicide in 2005, was allowed to retire in the late 1990s and maintain his status as an emeritus despite the history of abuse.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision came after Ohio State appealed a decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, when it, too, allowed litigation to go forward.

That court ruled that the university did not properly investigate complaints against Strauss, did not appropriately notify students about the team doctor’s actions, and allowed Strauss to retire without adequately warning the university community.

The university argued in the court case, and in its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, that the court should “uphold its long-standing commitment to statutes of limitations that begin when an injury occurs – not decades later,” along with preserving Title IX protections for “students who are denied educational opportunities or benefits,” Johnson said.

Previous OCJ reporting profiled survivors of the Strauss abuse, including Stephen Snyder-Hill, one of the lead plaintiffs in the two cases turned down by the nation’s highest court on Monday.

Snyder-Hill was seen by Strauss in 1995 for a medical exam that turned into unnecessary genital examinations and inappropriate sexual contact by Strauss, according to Snyder-Hill.

After that, Snyder-Hill filed a complaint, and a pandora’s box of undisclosed abuse allegations and shadowy investigations were subsequently opened.

Since 2018, OSU had spent millions of dollars settling lawsuits amid the Strauss scandal, while marginally paying victims through a settlement program and withholding public documents from survivors like Snyder-Hill.

As OSU spent its time trying to avoid public battles and legal rulings, members of the state legislature led by then-House Speaker Larry Householder and that General Assembly’s House Majority Leader, Bill Seitz, R-Green Twp., were holding hearings on bills to hold the university to task for the scandal.

That legislation, it was later found, was not a serious effort and legislators never planned to pass it.

Householder and Seitz, who is still an active member of the Ohio House, made public statements saying they hoped the hearings would pressure the university to work it out in out-of-court settlements, but didn’t plan to follow through on the strategy to hold OSU accountable.

Despite hitting a wall at the U.S. Supreme Court, OSU defended its monetary settlements and counseling and treatment coverage for survivors and family members, and said the school “is a fundamentally different university today than when Strauss was employed.”



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.