U.S. Supreme Court rejects Ohio State University’s attempt to thwart sex abuse lawsuits

By John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied Ohio State University’s request to dismiss lawsuits brought by alleged victims of sexual abuse of a now-deceased doctor who was employed by the athletic department and school medical staff for nearly two decades.

Judges have dismissed Ohio State’s appeal of a lower court’s decision allowing the litigation to proceed despite being brought decades after the Richard Strauss abuses, which occurred from 1978 to 1998.

The State of Ohio reached settlement agreements with 296 survivors of Strauss abuse, totaling more than $60 million, while others continued to pursue their claims in court. Several other major US universities have agreed to multimillion-dollar settlements in recent years to resolve claims made in episodes similar to Ohio State’s.

At issue in the ongoing litigation was whether the State of Ohio’s two-year statute of limitations for such misconduct began to run at the time of the abuse or decades later when the victims alleged learned that the State of Ohio was investigating Strauss’s misconduct.

Ohio State launched an independent investigation in 2018 by law firm Perkins Coie after a former member of the university’s men’s wrestling team reported to the school that Strauss had abused decades earlier.

A 2019 report detailing the findings of the investigation said that Strauss had sexually abused at least 177 men, almost all of whom were students, and that university staff who knew about the abuse did not did not act. The abuse included groping and touching of students’ genitals and other acts under the guise of a medical examination.

Strauss retired from the faculty in 1998 and committed suicide in 2005.

News of the investigation and its findings prompted more than 500 plaintiffs to sue the State of Ohio, alleging they were sexually abused by Strauss and that the school showed “deliberate indifference “.

A group of 100 plaintiffs, led by former Ohio State student Steve Snyder-Hill, were among those suing under a 1972 federal law called Title IX Amendments. on Education, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex by schools that receive federal funding. Title IX lawsuits look to state statute statute of limitations, but federal courts determine when the clock starts, an issue that has divided the courts.

A federal judge initially dismissed the Title IX claims as premature under Ohio’s two-year statute of limitations.

But the Cincinnati-based 6th United States Court of Appeals last September revived the lawsuits, saying the alleged victims’ claims only became enforceable “when they knew or had reason to know that the state of Ohio” had treated their alleged abuse with willful indifference.

“The plaintiffs’ allegations that they had no reason to know that the State of Ohio harmed them are plausible,” the 6th Circuit wrote.

The ruling also opened the door for some alleged victims who were not former Ohio State students or employees to sue the school under Title IX.

The State of Ohio told the Supreme Court in its appeal that allowing the lawsuits to continue based on the 6th Circuit’s decision would mean “there is essentially no limit to the obsolete claims that could be brought”.

Similar scandals rocked other major state universities.

The University of Michigan in 2022 finalized a $490 million settlement with more than 1,000 people who alleged sexual assault by a former sports doctor. The University of California system in 2022 agreed to pay $243 million to settle the legal claims of about 200 women who accused a former UCLA gynecologist of sexual abuse.

The University of Southern California in 2021 reached an $852 million settlement with more than 700 women who accused a former campus gynecologist of sexually abusing them. Michigan State University in 2018 reached a $500 million settlement with more than 300 women who said they were sexually abused by a gym doctor.

(Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham)

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