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Judge: U of M must alert 300,000 alums they could be plaintiffs in Anderson suits

Robert E. Anderson pictured in 1967.
University of Michigan
Bentley Historical Library

A federal judge says the University of Michigan must alert the roughly 300,000 alumni it previously asked for information about a former sports doctor accused of sexual abuse, that there are several lawsuits pending against the University and they could be potential plaintiffs. 

At least 80 former students have already filed suit against Michigan, alleging Dr. Robert Anderson sexually abused them during the decades he worked at the University. “Hundreds of others” have retained counsel and are seeking class action status, according to a spokesperson for the plaintiffs’ attorneys. 

In June, the University sent a letter “to all students who attended the University between the mid-1960s and the early 2000s” when Anderson worked for the school, inviting them to participate in an investigation conducted by WilmerHale, a firm hired by the University. 

But the federal judge overseeing the Anderson suits balked, ordering the University to cease direct contact with individuals who may have abused and could have grounds to sue.

Now, Judge Victoria Roberts has issued a new order allowing the WilmerHale investigation to move forward, with a few caveats: first, the University must send out a follow-up letter, telling alums that participation in the investigation is purely voluntary, and to “ensure you are aware of pending legal proceedings regarding Dr. Anderson,” according to a draft of the letter.

“If you are not already represented by counsel in connection with one of those cases, you may wish to consult your own legal counsel regarding your rights, or you may wish to contact any of the lawyers who are representing the existing claimants identified in the attached master docket of the cases,” the letter continues. 

In her order issued August 6, Roberts also says she’s received assurances about the “protocols and guardrails that WilmerHale has in place to insure that its investigation is survivor-centric, confidential, independent and thorough.” Any further communication to potential claimants has to get approval from both the Court and the plaintiff’s attorneys, the order says, and the “University must ensure that WilmerHale will not share any of its work product with any of the lawyers from the law firms representing the University in these proceedings.”

“We are pleased the court has put guardrails around the WilmerHale investigation, and we are hopeful that it will truly serve the interests of survivors and not just UM and its leadership,” court-appointed interim class counsel Jonathan D. Selbin said in a statement. “

“We are very pleased that WilmerHale will be able to move forward and complete its investigation, which is so important to get to all the facts and report them to the public,” Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the University, said in an email Friday.  


Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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