Dozens of Black former University of Michigan student-athletes who claim they were abused by a sports doctor at the school asked Wednesday to be treated fairly as the university settles hundreds of lawsuits expected to cost the institution millions of dollars.
They’re demanding that victims of Dr. Robert Anderson receive fair compensation “based on their trauma rather than based on their color.”
Most personal injury cases are settled out of court with the amounts often based on data that projects lower lifetime earnings for Blacks, Latinos and women than white men, said Parker Stinar, an attorney with Denver-based Wahlberg, Woodruff, Nimmo & Sloane law firm.
A former Michigan football player and wrestler discussed their experiences during a news conference at a hotel in the Detroit suburb of Novi.
“I still love the University of Michigan,” said Dwight Hicks, who captained the Wolverines football team in 1977 before going on to win two Super Bowls as a four-time Pro Bowl defensive back for the San Francisco 49ers. “I hope the University of Michigan understands and acknowledges what happened to so many of us. And I would hope that they would recognize the trauma that was bestowed on us.”
Stinar said nearly half of the 750 men who say they were sexually abused by Anderson are Black.
“As plaintiff trial lawyers, we are familiar with the prejudices that jurors have against plaintiffs, especially plaintiffs that are minority men,” said Stinar, whose firm represents more than 100 clients with claims against Anderson. “Historically, Black men receive the lowest verdict or settlement awards, especially compared to white men and women.”
Anderson worked at the university from the mid-1960s through 2003. He died in 2008.
Campus police began investigating him in 2018 after a former student-athlete wrote to athletic director Warde Manuel about being sexually abused during medical exams in the early 1970s.
The university has acknowledged some employees were aware of accusations against Anderson before the 2018 complaint. The school started an independent investigation into the claims, which date back as far as the 1960s.
The university has not yet shared details of any settlement process, a spokesman said Tuesday in an email.
Insurance companies and courts rely on testimony of economic experts who use wage tables to calculate damages, according to a 2018 report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“How Race, Ethnicity, and Gender Impact Your Life’s Worth: Discrimination in Civil Damage Awards” says the data typically comes from the quarterly population survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That data often is based on the race, ethnicity and gender of the person filing the lawsuit, and since Blacks, Latinos and Hispanics and women of all races typically earn less than white men, the damages offered and awarded often are less than what white men would receive, the report said.
“The practice of forensic economists using race, gender or ethnicity to calculate civil damages really hurts communities of color and women because historically they have been paid less because of structural and systemic discrimination in the workplace,” said Dariely Rodriguez, director of the Economic Justice Project of the Lawyers’ Committee and the report’s co-author.
Dollar amounts of many settlements aren’t publicized because 90% of personal injury and wrongful death cases are settled out of court, Rodriguez said.
“A lot of the discrimination that we discussed in our report happens behind closed doors,” Rodriguez said.
The Associated Press left messages Tuesday seeking comment from the National Association of Forensic Economics.
Airron Richardson, an emergency physician and former wrestler at the University of Michigan, hopes that the school properly compensates Anderson’s victims while developing programs to educate student-athletes on what to do if they believe they’re victims of abuse.
“I am optimistic that U-M will do the right thing and right some of the wrongs that have persisted for so long on the campus, and I really hope that they are really not entertaining thoughts of trying to discount us in any way,” Richardson, 44, told the AP last week.
Richardson, who also spoke at Wednesday’s news conference, is not yet part of the lawsuits against the school. He arrived as a sophomore in 1994 on the Ann Arbor campus and was seen by Anderson for his annual physicals and occasionally for strep throat.
“I vividly remember being in the exam room, him looking in my throat, him giving me antibiotics,” Richardson said. “But he also did a genital exam and I remember seeing posters on the exam room talking about how to properly perform a testicular exam.”
Anderson performed the exam under the guise of checking for cancer, said Richardson, who is Black and now lives in Chicago.
“I feel like I was too naïve,” he said. “I believed he was helping us. It wasn’t until later when I’m in medical school understanding that’s not part of a normal exam.”