Thursday, 19 November 2020

University of Michigan reaches $9.25million settlement with eight women who say they were sexually abused by school's ex-provost who 'had flings in campus office with female employees'

 The University of Michigan said Wednesday it will pay $9.25million to eight women who reported emotional or sexual abuse by a man who became the school's chief academic officer.

'We thank them for their courage and we apologize to each one of them and to all survivors,' the university said.

The university did not name any of the eight women who made the allegations against the former provost, Martin Philbert. 

The settlement was agreed to by the university and the women, who could still file separate lawsuits against Philbert should they choose to do so in the future. 

University of Michigan then-Provost Martin Philbert (seen above in May of last year) speaks during commencement exercises in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The school has agreed to pay more than $9million to eight women who allege they were sexually abused by Philbert

University of Michigan then-Provost Martin Philbert (seen above in May of last year) speaks during commencement exercises in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The school has agreed to pay more than $9million to eight women who allege they were sexually abused by Philbert

Philbert spent 25 years at the university, rising from toxicology professor to dean of the School of Public Health and then provost in 2017, a job that paid $570,000 a year.

An investigation found that Philbert committed sexual misconduct during his long career, harassing graduate students and staff and regularly having trysts in campus offices, according to a law firm hired by U-M.


Philbert was fired in March, weeks after being put on leave by President Mark Schlissel. 

He quit as a faculty member in June.

Philbert hasn't talked publicly about the allegations.

'The University of Michigan failed on many levels as this individual advanced through the administrative ranks,' the university said.

Investigators found that allegations about Philbert's conduct had reached campus officials at certain points. 

The report said the provost search committee wasn't aware, although a member apparently was familiar with some allegations 'but did not think about it.'

Sarah Prescott, the attorney representing all of the women, told the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday: 'Martin Philbert is a classic harasser - he was prolific and abusive, and he had the power and connections to protect himself for years. 

'But this case I think illustrates that there is no one too high or too powerful to be held accountable.

'[My clients] brought about policy changes they are proud of, and this settlement number speaks for itself.'

Prescott hinted on Wednesday that Philbert could be hit with lawsuits.

'There is a path even after this agreement for pursuing Philbert individually - this deal does not release him, and that is very unique and I will say admirable on the part of the University,' Prescott said. 

A report by a Washington, DC-based law firm hired to investigate the women's claims found that Philbert juggled multiple sexual relationships with female employees simultaneously

A report by a Washington, DC-based law firm hired to investigate the women's claims found that Philbert juggled multiple sexual relationships with female employees simultaneously 

'It is paying for its part in this, and leaving him to shoulder what he did individually. 

'Most employers don't do that.' 

The law firm hired by the university to investigate the women's claims found that Philbert used his position as provost to regularly engage in trysts inside on-campus officers with female subordinates  as well as graduate students.

Philbert was also known to make suggestive comments to female employees, according to the report. 

'Over the course of his employment by the University - while he was an assistant professor, an associate dean, Dean of SPH (School of Public Health), and Provost - Philbert sexually harassed multiple members of the university community, including both graduate students who worked in his research lab and university employees,' according to the report by the law firm WilmerHale. 

'Some allegations and other information about Philbert’s conduct reached university officials; others never came to their attention.'

The law firm alleged: 'Among other sexual comments, he told three different women that he wanted to see below their tan lines; told one woman that he was "aching" for her, and that they could have "beautiful coffee-colored babies" together, and told another woman that "if I wasn’t married, I would really go after you." 

'Philbert was persistent at times, texting at least one woman frequently, inviting her to travel with him, and arriving at work early apparently because she did.' 

The report continued: 'Philbert also continued to engage in multiple sexual relationships with university employees. 

'For nearly his entire tenure as provost, he was in simultaneous sexual relationships with at least two university employees, sometimes more. 

'He pressed some of these women to send him explicit photos, which he stored on his university-owned devices. 

'And he engaged in sexual contact with them in university offices, including with one woman on a near-daily basis for a time. 

'These relationships took a toll on the environment in the Provost’s Office and created uncomfortable dynamics among some staff.'

Philbert, who is a graduate of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and got his doctorate from London University Royal Postgraduate Medical School, has not responded to media requests for comment.

According to his page on Michigan University's website, he is also a professor of toxicology in the University of Michigan School of Public Health. 

Philbert is alleged to have engaged in trysts with female subordinates on campus grounds 'on a near daily basis,' according to a report. The image above is a file photo of the university's campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Philbert is alleged to have engaged in trysts with female subordinates on campus grounds 'on a near daily basis,' according to a report. The image above is a file photo of the university's campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1984 from the College of Arts and Technology at Cambridge, and his doctorate in 1987 from the London University Royal Postgraduate Medical School.  

His school page says he was later awarded a postdoctoral fellowship in the Neurotoxicology Laboratories at Rutgers University from 1988-90 and that he served as a research assistant professor at Rutgers' Neurotoxicology Laboratories until 1995, when he joined the faculty at the University of Michigan School of Public Health as an assistant professor of toxicology.

Philbert rose up the school's ranks after he was promoted as an associate professor in 2000 and to professor in 2004. 

He was appointed senior associate dean for research of the School of Public Health, a position he held through 2010 when he was appointed as dean of the school. 

He was appointed as provost in September 2017. 

'The sexual misconduct of the former university provost that has been detailed in a report from the WilmerHale law firm is abhorrent and unacceptable,' U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said. 

'The University of Michigan failed on many levels, as this individual advanced through the administrative ranks.

'We recognize how difficult it was for these eight women to come forward to share their experiences. 

'We thank them for their courage and we apologize to each one of them and to all survivors.'

The provost isn't the first to come under investigation by the university.

Renowned violin professor Stephen Shipps of the university's School of Music, Theater and Dance, retired in February after a published report outlined allegations of sexual misconduct that spanned 40 years.

The school moved to terminate David Daniels, another music professor, after a Texas grand jury indicted the countertenor and his husband, William Scott Walters, in the sexual assault of an incapacitated man in 2010.   

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