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Black victims of U-Michigan doc seek equity in settlements

Dwight Hicks, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers, is among dozens of black former University of Michigan student-athletes who are seeking fair treatment as the school settles hundreds of lawsuits with the sexual assault victims of Dr. Robert Anderson, a now-deceased athletic department physician. 

Anderson, who died in 2008 after working at the university from the mid-1960s through 2003, has been accused of sexually assault by over 750 male students. Campus police began investigating him in 2018 after a former student-athlete wrote to athletic director Warde Manuel. The university has acknowledged some employees were aware of accusations against Anderson before then.   

Parker Stinar, an attorney with Denver-based Wahlberg, Woodruff, Nimmo & Sloane law firm, said nearly half of the accusers are black, which could leave with them with smaller settlements than white victims. 

As Stinar explained, most personal injury cases are settled out of court with the amounts often based on data that projects lower lifetime earnings for African Americans, Latinos and women than white men. 

‘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.’    

Hicks addressed the media Wednesday, explaining that he was willing to do whatever it took to compete in the 1970s in hopes of reaching the NFL. Unfortunately he sad, the price paid included being sexually assaulted by Anderson during examinations. 

‘I’m here today speaking for people that could not speak for themselves, that feel ashamed, but it’s about not being silent,’ Hicks said Wednesday following a news conference at a hotel in the Detroit suburb of Novi. ‘You see an injustice, you speak up. You have to.

‘I still love the University of Michigan,’ said Hicks, who captained the football team in 1977. ‘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.’ 

Hicks was joined by former Michigan wrestler Airron Richardson, now a doctor in Chicago, to discuss their experiences.

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, damages 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.

The Associated Press left messages Tuesday seeking comment from the National Association of Forensic Economics.

Richardson, who joined the Wednesday 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,’ said Richardson, 44. 

‘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.

‘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.’

Anderson’s victims are not all males. 

Cathy Kalahar, who played tennis for the Wolverines in the 1970s, joined the hundreds of Michigan graduates alleging that Anderson molested them.

Kalahar told The Associated Press in July that Anderson assaulted her during an exam when she was a freshman in 1973. She was a member of the school’s first women’s tennis team.

‘I really shut down and kind of put myself into a different space,’ she recalled. ‘I wanted to crawl into the wall. I wanted to crawl into the floor. I just wanted to get away from him.’

In June, a judge said she would order the university to stop reaching out to alumni as part of its investigation of Anderson, saying it is wrong for the university to communicate with people who could become plaintiffs in class-action litigation.

Attorney Michael Nimmo said more than 70 lawsuits have been filed against the university by various firms, and his Denver-based firm plans to join that list. Nevertheless, Nimmo said he and his clients were hoping for an out-of-court settlement.

Former Michigan wrestler Tad DeLuca sent a letter to Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel about his experience with Anderson two years ago that sparked the school’s investigation. DeLuca said he was inspired by the women who testified against convicted Michigan State physician Larry Nassar. 

Kalahar said she chose to come forward after waves of alleged victims spoke up about what they said Anderson did to them.

‘I thank Tad and all the other men,’ she said. ‘They inspired me to report and break my silence.’ 

Ward Black, a member of the 1970 national championship team, spoke exclusively to the AP about being molested by Anderson.

‘Nobody wanted Dr. Anderson to look at you, but you had no choice,’ Black said Thursday. ‘He was the athletic department’s team doctor.’

Black, 68, is suing the university and has been interviewed by a law firm that was hired by the school to investigate complaints, which now exceed 300. 

President Mark Schlissel has said the WilmerHale report will be released publicly and without prior review by the university.

‘My view of Dr. Anderson is that he was a sociopath and a serial pedophile,’ Kalahar said. ‘I think he was intent on sexually assaulting students. His power and control issues were what drove him to do this. I think he took some sort of pleasure in making us feel very uncomfortable and not being able to stop.’ 

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