COLUMBUS, Ohio — A federal judge dismissed some of the biggest remaining lawsuits over Ohio State’s failure to stop decades-old sexual abuse by now-deceased team doctor Richard Strauss, saying Wednesday it’s indisputable that Strauss abused hundreds of young men but agreeing with the university’s argument that the legal window for such claims had passed.
“For decades, many at Ohio State tasked with protecting and training students and young athletes instead turned a blind eye to Strauss’s exploitation,” U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson wrote in one ruling. “From 1979 to 2018, Ohio State utterly failed these victims. Plaintiffs beseech this Court to hold Ohio State accountable, but today, the legal system also fails Plaintiffs.”
Lawyers for at least some of the affected plaintiffs immediately vowed to appeal.
Attorney Stephen Estey said the group of men he represents was devastated by the judge’s decision.
“The students were betrayed on the campus, and they’re betrayed again by the university in the legal proceedings” through the settlement amounts the school offered and its argument for dismissing the cases, Estey said. “I mean, it’s betrayal across the board.”
About 400 men and one woman have sued the university since 2018 over its failure to stop Strauss despite concerns they say were raised with school officials during his two-decade tenure, as far back as the late 1970s. Many of them say they were fondled in medical exams at campus athletic facilities, a student health center, his home or an off-campus clinic.
Watson said the court wasn’t questioning their suffering and that “their claims cry out for a remedy,” but he concluded that the two-year legal window in Ohio for bringing claims under the federal Title IX law had passed. If they have a legal path forward, it starts at the statehouse, not the courts, he said.
“At all times since the filing of these cases, the Ohio legislature had the power, but not the will, to change the statute of limitations for these Plaintiffs,” Watson wrote.
Some of the plaintiffs had recently sought the judge’s recusal from the case after he disclosed to them this month that his wife’s business has ties to the university, but Watson also denied those requests Wednesday. Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they intend to appeal that issue, too.
The university has publicly and repeatedly apologized, and said it was committed to a “monetary resolution” for those Strauss harmed. It previously reached almost $47 million in settlements with 185 survivors — an average of about $252,000 each — and separately offered an individual settlement program that recently closed and had drawn interest from additional plaintiffs.
In total, the university has reached settlement agreements with more than 230 survivors, OSU spokesman Benjamin Johnson said by email Wednesday. He said he couldn’t provide details on the total sum of settlements or the average amount for those in the individual program.
After the allegations came to light three years ago, the university “sought to uncover and acknowledge the truth about Richard Strauss’ abuse and the university’s failure at the time to prevent it,” Johnson said.
But many of the men who had been continuing the legal fight argued that the university hadn’t treated them fairly and had thus added to their trauma. They maintained that the earlier settlements were too small and that they deserve compensation more comparable to other recent sexual abuse cases in higher education. They point to Michigan State’s $500 million settlement for 500-plus female survivors of imprisoned sports doctor Larry Nassar and the University of Southern California’s $852 million settlement with more than 700 women who accused a gynecologist of sexual abuse.
Rocky Ratliff, an attorney who represented some of the plaintiffs and was one himself, said some of the men in his group who had recently and reluctantly agreed to settle reached out to him Wednesday, upset for him and others who had decided against settling only to see their cases dismissed weeks afterward.
Ratliff said he hadn’t brought himself to read the judge’s full rulings but was left feeling “sad and disgusted” to have been an Ohio State Buckeye wrestler and alumnus.
The Ohio State accusers can’t confront Strauss, who died in 2005. Since his family’s initial statement of shock, no one has publicly defended him.
He had retired in 1998 with an unblemished employment file. Other records show there was a state medical board investigation regarding Strauss in 1996, but he was never disciplined. Current officials at the board say evidence of misconduct was ignored in that case but that they can’t determine now why his case was closed back then.