A federal appeals court decision on Wednesday reopens outstanding lawsuits against Ohio State University over a decade-old sexual assault by late team doctor Richard Strauss.
A district judge in Columbus dismissed most of the outstanding cases, acknowledging that hundreds of youths had been abused, but agreeing with the university’s argument that the statutory time limit for filing lawsuits had long expired. The plaintiffs argued that the clock did not run until the allegations became known in 2018 and that their cases should be resolved.
Two of the three U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judges who heard the case concluded in a ruling Wednesday that the men “plausibly allege hiding for decades” and “sufficiently state that they did not know and could not reasonably have known” . that the state of Ohio hurt them before 2018.”
“The State of Ohio is a vast institution, and Plaintiffs’ allegations underline how difficult it is for a student to know what the relevant Ohio officials knew” about the abuse allegations, Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the decision.
Lead plaintiff Steve Snyder-Hill said the decision is an important decision for survivors, who believe it could impact other university sexual harassment cases.
“Our lawyer argued that if OSU got away with what they were trying to do here by denying this statute of limitations petition, then they would pave the way and give all these other universities a plan of action the same thing they did, and I’m glad this court saw it and didn’t let it happen,” Snyder-Hill said.
Judge Ralph B. Guy, Jr. disagreed with the ruling, writing that the claims expired decades ago and that the court’s decision “virtually nullifies any statute of limitations for Title IX claims based on sexual harassment.”
Ohio State is reviewing the decision, University spokesman Benjamin Johnson said in an email.
Hundreds of former student-athletes and other alumni say they were abused by Strauss during his two decades at the school, and that Ohio State officials were unable to stop him despite knowing about the complaints. The men alleged that Strauss abused them during physical exams, demanded physical exams and other appointments at campus sports facilities, the student health center, his home, and an off-campus clinic.
The doctor died in 2005. No one defended him publicly.
The university again apologized to everyone it harmed and reached over $60 million in compensation for at least 296 survivors.
The school tried to dismiss the remaining cases, saying it did not intend to disrespect the men or their claims, but the announcements came too late. OSU’s lawyer argued that if the doctor’s behavior and the inaction of the state of Ohio during his tenure were as egregious as they claim, the students knew enough that, legally speaking, they should have started asking about a possible recourse even then.
Wednesday’s ruling said the appeals court could not say whether the plaintiffs’ “bits of knowledge” should prompt them to investigate further. This, as the ruling states, “is a matter of fact that is not appropriate to decide at the stage of the motion to dismiss.”
Two groups, numbering more than 100 survivors, have appealed the dismissal, arguing that the two-year window for lawsuits did not begin until 2018, when the men began speaking out and the school hired a law firm to investigate. Until then, most plaintiffs did not consider their experience to be abuse and did not know that OSU’s indifference to student issues allows abuse to continue for years, the men’s lawyer said during the appeal deliberations.
Strauss joined Ohio State in 1978 and has worked as an educator and medical staff. He was able to retire in 1998 with honorary status. The school’s trustees revoked the badge of honor three years ago.
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