The suit, filed Monday in federal district court in Columbus, accuses Ohio State of Title IX and civil rights violations when it failed to prevent repeated sexual assaults, abuse and molestation by Dr. Richard Strauss.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Four former Ohio State University wrestlers have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court, alleging the university knew about abuse by physician Richard Strauss but failed to stop his misconduct.
The suit, filed Monday in federal district court in Columbus, accuses Ohio State of Title IX and civil rights violations when it failed to prevent repeated sexual assaults, abuse and molestation by Strauss.
The plaintiffs in the case, listed only as “John Does,” seek punitive damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney fees and other relief as the court deems proper. The suit did not state a specific amount the plaintiffs were seeking.
The lawsuit alleges that despite being repeatedly informed of Strauss’ “sexual assault, abuse, battery, molestation, and/or harassment, OSU failed to take appropriate action (or, in fact, any action whatsoever) to stop or prevent Dr. Strauss from continuing his rampant sexual misconduct.”
“Dr. Strauss used his position of trust and confidence to regularly and systematically sexually assault, abuse, batter, molest, and harass male students and student-athletes over the entire course of his career in his capacity as an employee, agent, and/or representative of OSU,” the suit said.
The legal complaint calls Strauss a “prolific sexual predator.” It states that two wrestlers met with former Ohio State Athletic Director Andy Geiger in the mid-1990s, where they complained about “the voyeuristic and lewd conduct of the men in the lockers and saunas of Larkins Hall, including that of Dr. Strauss.” The suit said the wrestlers offered drawings of potential changes to the wrestling and gymnastics locker room that would enhance safety, but Ohio State did nothing.
Each of the former wrestlers in the case was sexually assaulted by Strauss in some way, the lawsuit said. Two plaintiffs were abused during an exam in the 1990s. Another was sexually assaulted during “multiple physical examinations and in the locker room of Larkins Hall,” the suit said. And a fourth was sexually assaulted during approximately 50 examinations by Strauss in the late 1980s and 1990s, the suit said.
Attorneys representing the athletes are asking other sexually abused athletes or witnesses to come forward. According to athleteabuse.com, the attorneys in the case — Rex Sharp, Robert Allard, Jonathan Little and Stephen Estey — are part of a coalition of law firms that have spent years fighting for compensation for sexually abused athletes.
Columbus attorney Simina Vourlis is also listed as an attorney for the plaintiffs.
“We just thought it was time to get this thing teed up for a lawsuit so that there would be vehicle for everybody to try to figure out how to deal with it, how to compensate victims and how to change what OSU’s been doing so this doesn’t happen again,” Sharp told The Dispatch in a phone interview Tuesday.
Sharp said the case is somewhat unusual because the man accused of the abuse is deceased. Strauss killed himself at his California home in 2005.
But the issue is bigger than one doctor; it’s about the “callous and reckless indifference to the safety of the athletes,” he said.
“Ohio State is an institution that chose to protect its image and its brand rather than protect its students and its athletes from the sexual misconduct of the team doctor,” Sharp said.
The Dispatch has reached out to Ohio State for a comment on the lawsuit.
Ohio State first announced in April that it would launch an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct involving Strauss, stemming from initial reports of abuse during Strauss’ time as a physician with the men’s wrestling team in the 1980s. Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie is handling the independent investigation into the allegations for the university. Since the investigation began, the firm has interviewed more than 150 former students or witnesses, and former student-athletes from at least 14 men’s sports teams have alleged sexual misconduct by Strauss.
Jennifer Smola is a reporter for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.