Attorney Jack Landskroner of Landskroner, Grieco, Merriman, LLC in Cleveland, along with lawyers in Columbus and Washington, D.C., filed a new lawsuit July 26 seeking reparations for 10 survivors of alleged sexual abuse by Dr. Richard Strauss, a former team doctor and sports-medicine researcher at The Ohio State University in Columbus.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, is the third the university is faced with for being aware of the doctor’s alleged abuse but failing to stop it. It argues the university demonstrated “institutional indifference to the rights and safety of its students” not only in the Strauss cases, but in two other sexual harassment or abuse cases involving a former marching band director, Jonathan Waters, and assistant diving coach, Will Bohonyi.
The lawsuit argues the university violated federal Title IX policies by failing to respond to the allegations and seeks compensatory damages for survivors in amounts to be established at trial.
“This is really the first time in the realm of what I guess is deemed the #MeToo movement that there’s a recognition that it’s not just limited to victims that are women,” Landskroner said. “It equally applies to men, and more importantly, the global picture of what is going on – and has been going on culturally on university campuses with an indifference to sexual abuse and harassment – it’s something that has to change. So, it was really an easy no-brainer for our office, which has historically been involved in cases that have a purpose, to get involved in the case.”
As of July 20, more than 100 former students have reported firsthand accounts of sexual misconduct committed by Strauss, according to an independent investigation sought by the university. Ohio State announced its investigation in April after allegations of misconduct. It now includes more than 200 interviews with former students and staff believed to have information about the allegations, according to a university news release.
Strauss was employed by Ohio State from the mid-1970s to the 1990s. In 1996, he established a private medical office in Columbus where individuals also reported sexual misconduct. He died by suicide in 2005.
In response to the latest lawsuit, Benjamin Johnson, director of media and public relations at Ohio State, said in an email, “We are aware of reports that individuals at the university did not respond appropriately during that era. These allegations are troubling and are a critical focus of the current investigation.
“There is no connection between the allegations in the lawsuits regarding Dr. Strauss, the marching band and the dive club, except that in all three cases the university of today immediately and unambiguously took action to get to the truth and live up to one of our core values as a university – that we do not tolerate sexual misconduct.”
While the first two lawsuits filed are class-action suits, the third focuses on the individuals’ divergent stories, circumstances and damages that don’t fit into class-action cases, said Landskroner and Scott E. Smith, owner and president of Scott Elliott Smith, LPA in Columbus, which is also working on the case.
“The first and foremost thing we’d like to see happen is we’d like to impact change with the culture at OSU,” Smith said. “As you can see from the news, this isn’t the first time this has come up at OSU.”
Seven clients chose to be identified as “John Does” in the lawsuit, and Landskroner said there are Jewish clients he is representing in the case.
Although the court date has yet to be set, it will be heard by Judge Michael H. Watson in Columbus.
Landskroner said his “human values,” rather than solely his Jewish values, have influenced his interest in the case. His firm also represents about 200 clients in the University Hospitals of Cleveland Fertility Clinic case in which frozen eggs and embryos were compromised or destroyed. The practice has a satellite office in Columbus and does class-action work around the country.