By: Barbara Hart, Principal in G&E’s Civil Rights Practice
Sexual assault survivors of former Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar seek accountability in recent lawsuit against the University and its Board of Trustees. The women claim school officials made secret decisions to withhold more than 6,000 documents in an investigation into how Nassar got away with the misconduct.
A lawsuit, recently filed in late July 2023, against Michigan State University and its Board of Trustees by survivors of sexual assault at the hands of former university sports doctor Larry Nassar seeks accountability from the school in its alleged cover-up of Nassar’s behavior. Plaintiffs contend that the university failed to hand over to the state attorney general’s office more than 6,000 documents, and later declined to produce emails between members of the school’s Board of Trustees about the decisions they made, during the state’s investigation into Nassar’s misconduct.
“It’s really, really hard to heal when you know there’s still answers to a lot of your questions out there,” said one of the survivors.
Back in 2018, Nassar was sentenced to serve many decades in jail after admitting to molesting Michigan State gymnasts under the guise of providing medical treatment. He was accused of assaulting hundreds of women as well as young girls, and was charged with 10 counts of sexual assault spanning two decades. The accusations and admission led to a $500 million settlement between the university and the athletes which, at the time, was believed to be the largest settlement reached in a sexual abuse case involving a university in the U.S. The agreement drew wide eyes among other colleges and universities, reminding them of the severity of ignoring their Title IX requirements.
When Nassar’s conduct came to light, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asked the university to release the many thousand documents relating to what school officials may have known about the alleged abuses. After three years of trying, and as a result of the board’s refusal to turn over the requested documents, the investigation was closed in 2021. Nessel renewed her request to release the withheld documents in April 2023.
Now, the survivors want the school to own up to its alleged dishonesty in handling the abuse. The civil suit claims that the decision not to release certain records by co-called “secret votes” of the board of trustees evaded Michigan’s Open Meetings Act as well as the state Constitution. While the school claims that the documents are protected by attorney-client privilege, plaintiffs seek for the court to declare that Michigan State violated the Freedom of Information Act and to mandate that the school comply with the laws in the future.
Colleges and universities that receive federal funding are required to adequately investigate complaints of sexual assault on campus. Every year, perpetrators go unchecked and survivors get silenced by their schools, often for fear of reputational fallout.
Contact a Civil Rights Lawyer to Discuss Your Potential Case
If you or someone you love is a survivor of sexual misconduct or sexual violence at a college, university, or other education institution, it’s important to know your rights and have someone fighting for you to hold those responsible accountable. Hiring a Title IX lawyer may be an option for you. If you feel you have not been heard by your college or university, speak with an attorney experienced in Title IX proceedings by calling 855-244-2031.