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US Supreme Court declines to hear Ohio State sexual abuse case, allowing survivors to sue OSU

Dr. Richard Strauss
Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition Monday by Ohio State University to hear a case disputing a lower court ruling that revived unsettled lawsuits against the university over decades-old sexual abuse by the late team doctor Richard Strauss.

The decision keeps in place the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision which allowed Strauss' victims to sue the university. Strauss was an OSU athletics physician and in a self-commissioned report, whom university officials claim sexually abused more than 170, mostly male, victims between 1979 and 1996.

Steve Snyder-Hill, a survivor of sexual abuse by Strauss and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said on Twitter following the petition's denial that OSU cannot escape their culpability in the doctor's sexual abuse. "They knew, they covered it up. Just like Judge (Michael) Watson said, there is no doubt their role in this," he wrote.

Snyder-Hill told WOSU he was shocked by the news. He said victims and the public now have a chance to hear depositions from OSU employees who could have been complicit in Strauss's abuse, name-dropping former Ohio State wrestling coach and U.S. Republican congressman Jim Jordan of Urbana.

"This has not been about money for me. This has been about (OSU) owning up to what they've done and sincerely apologizing to us not just for lying to us, for dragging us through the mud for five years, for all the gaslighting they've done. I want an apology for all that," he said.

The lawsuits were filed a group of more than 100 former Ohio State students who have claimed they were sexually abused by Strauss, who died in 2005.

University spokesperson Ben Johnson said in a statement that the university is disappointed by the court's decision not to review the case.

Johnson said the case will have a significant legal impact on colleges and universities, 23 of which filed amicus briefs in the case, as well as students.

"Ohio State is a fundamentally different university today than when Strauss was employed and over the past 20 years has committed substantial resources to prevent and address sexual misconduct," Johnson said.

In April, Ohio State reached a settlement agreement that totaled $1.995 million with an anticipated 57 additional survivors. Overall, Ohio State said they have reached settlement agreements with 289 survivors, more than half of the plaintiffs, for $59.79 million.

The survivors argued the legal time limit for the claims didn’t start until the allegations came to light in 2018. A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judge’s decision Wednesday and sent the case back to district court for further proceedings.

Johnson also said the university is committed to supporting survivors and has offered multiple monetary settlements to all male students who filed lawsuits and has settled with more than half of the plaintiffs, which is so far a total of 296 individuals, for more than $60 million.

The university is also covering the cost of professionally-certified counseling and treatment for all survivors and family members, Johnson said.

Snyder-Hill said he hopes other universities take a lesson from these lawsuits from OSU and realize they can't replicate that OSU has done.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.