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Federal judge approves settlement in UM sexual misconduct policy lawsuit

Emma Winowiecki
/
Michigan Radio

A federal judge approved a settlement between the University of Michigan and a student.

The agreement, approved Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts, involves institutional changes at the university.

The university said the core of the agreement is the establishment of a “Coordinated Community Response Team” composed of about 30 people. U of M said the team will address and prevent sexual misconduct.

The class-action lawsuit was filed by U of M student Josephine Graham, who alleged that the university lacked policies and procedures for preventing and responding to sexual misconduct on campus and demanded that the university implement policies to do so.

The lawsuit did not seek monetary relief. It’s separate from the $490 million agreement announced in January with claimants who alleged abuse by the late former university doctor Robert E. Anderson.

Graham filed the lawsuit in 2021 after a U of M investigation revealed multiple officials were made aware of Anderson’s abuse during his time at the university but did not intervene.

“We believe that these reforms will undoubtedly improve campus life for the next generation of students,” said Graham’s attorney, Joe Sauder of Sauder Schelkopf.

Starting this fall, the 30 representatives from the university's Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses will meet regularly and advise U of M on a wide range of approaches to prevent and address misconduct, the university said.

Under the settlement agreement, the team will be co-chaired by an external adviser, Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger; a faculty member, Sandra Levitsky; and the university’s executive director of the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, Tamiko Strickman.

The team will represent survivors of sexual misconduct, students, faculty, and staff from all three campuses, the university said, in addition to Michigan Medicine, athletics, and other aspects of the campus community, the SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor, which offers support to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office.

The full team will meet at least three times per year, and the co-chairs will meet regularly with the president and share updates publicly, according to the university, though Fitzgerald said exactly how regularly and how the updates will be shared with the public is still being determined.

“There's clearly a commitment to transparency and reporting to the university community on a regular basis,” he said. “Exactly what form that will take, I think is still being worked out with the leadership as the group has been formed.”

The co-chairs will be searching for members to fill the community response team, but the process is being worked out, Fitzgerald said. He said the co-chairs are reaching out to some individuals and some groups like SafeHouse and the prosecutor’s office.

A university press release said that “leading experts” nationwide consider this approach to be “a best practice for colleges and universities that seek to enact serious reforms.” Fitzgerald said that statement is based on “a number of experts” the university consulted, including co-chair Veidlinger.

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Sophia Kalakailo