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Black victims of U-Michigan doc seek equity in settlements

Dwight Hicks photo
Associated Press

Dwight Hicks left New Jersey as a teenager, seeking to take a step toward his NFL dreams by playing football at the University of Michigan.

Hicks was willing to do whatever it took to compete in the 1970s and says the price paid included being sexually assaulted by the late Dr. Robert Anderson during examinations.

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 asking to be treated fairly as the university settles hundreds of lawsuits expected to cost the institution millions of dollars. They say victims should receive compensation “based on their trauma rather than based on their color.”

“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.”

Most personal injury cases are settled out of court with the amounts often based on data that projects lower lifetime earnings for Blacks, Latinos and women than white men, said Parker Stinar, an attorney with Denver-based Wahlberg, Woodruff, Nimmo & Sloane law firm.

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

“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.”

Stinar said nearly half of the 750 men who say they were sexually abused by Anderson are Black.

“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.”

Anderson worked at the university from the mid-1960s through 2003. He died in 2008. 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.

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.”

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