Columbus, Ohio –
A federal appeals court ruling Wednesday revives unresolved claims against Ohio State University over decades of sexual abuse by the late team doctor Richard Strauss.
A district judge in Columbus had dismissed most of the unsolved cases, acknowledging that hundreds of young men had been molested, but agreed with the university’s argument that the legal time limit for filing complaints had long since expired. The plaintiffs argued that the clock was only ticking when the allegations came to light in 2018 and that their cases should proceed.
Two of the three judges on the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals hearing the case concluded in Wednesday’s decision that the men “plausibly allege a decades-long cover-up” and “reasonably claim they didn’t know and reasonably didn’t.” knew Ohio State violated them until 2018.”
“The state of Ohio is a vast institution, and the plaintiffs’ allegations underscore how difficult it is for a student to know what the appropriate individuals within the Ohio state government knew about abuse allegations,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the ruling .
Lead prosecutor Steve Snyder-Hill said it was a huge judgment for survivors, who believe it could affect other college sexual misconduct cases.
“Our attorney argued that if OSU had gotten away with what they were trying to do here by dropping that statute of limitations motion, then they would have paved the way and given all these other universities a playbook to do the same, what they did, and I’m glad this court saw through it and didn’t allow it,” said Snyder-Hill.
Judge Ralph B. Guy Jr. disagreed with the decision, writing that the clock on the claims ran out decades ago and that the court’s decision “effectively removes any statute of limitations for Title IX sexual harassment claims.”
Ohio State is reviewing the verdict, university spokesman Benjamin Johnson said via 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, despite knowing of complaints, could not stop him. The men alleged Strauss molested them during medical exams, demanding physical exams and other encounters at on-campus athletic facilities, at a student health center, at his home, and at an off-campus clinic.
The doctor died in 2005. No one has publicly defended him.
The university has repeatedly apologized for anyone it hurt and has settled more than $60 million with at least 296 survivors.
The school tried to dismiss the remaining cases, saying it had no intention of disregarding the men or their allegations, but that the allegations were made years too late. OSU’s attorney has argued that if the doctor’s behavior and the state of Ohio’s inaction during his tenure were as egregious as claimed, the students would have known enough that, legally, they should have started looking for a possible appeal at the time inquire.
Wednesday’s decision said the appeals court could not say whether the plaintiffs’ “snippets of knowledge” should have prompted them to investigate further. That, the ruling said, “is a question of fact — one that cannot be settled at the motion to dismiss motion.”
Two groups totaling more than 100 survivors appealed the dismissal, claiming the two-year window for claims 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 recognize their experiences as abuse, and little did they know that OSU’s indifference to student concerns allowed the abuse to continue for years, an attorney for the men said during the appeal argument.
Strauss joined Ohio State in 1978 and has served on the faculty and medical staff. In 1998 he was able to retire. School administrators revoked this badge of honor three years ago.