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Women sue University of Michigan for failing to prevent alleged sex abuse

Posted at 6:19 PM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-03 11:35:07-05

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — The University of Michigan is now facing another lawsuit, accusing it of failing to stop sexual misconduct.

This time former students say the university failed to respond when a prominent Rock N Roll professor sexually abused them, leading to more victims.

Two former students with their attorney held a press conference on Monday sharing how they say former Professor Bruce Conforth allegedly bought drinks for students after class related outings and acted sexually inappropriately. Katherine McMahan says she filed a complaint in 2008. She says the professor cornered her at one such event.

“When I came out of the bathroom, Bruce was standing there,” said McMahan. “He grabbed me, pulled me close to him. I couldn’t get away. He said that he thought I was beautiful and creative and he wanted to get to know me better. He said he wanted me to come home with him.”

Katherine McMahan says she turned down the professor’s advances but felt the need to report it. She received a follow-up communication from the university.

“The department and the university were taking all of the necessary steps to make sure this wouldn’t happen again. They were sure of it,” said McMahan.

“The first time that I found out that Katharine existed, an overwhelming anger came over me that this could have been prevented,” said Isabelle Brourman, another plaintiff.

Brourman says when she enrolled in Professor Conforth’s class in 2013, he manipulated her and sexually abused her.

“I almost lost my life. I am glad that I am here to say I didn’t. But they could have prevented it,” she said.

“When these complaints come forward, they should be listened to. They should be believed and investigated,” said Nolan L. Erickson, their attorney.

Attorney Nolan L. Erickson filed this lawsuit on behalf of eight accusers, saying the University could have prevented multiple incidents with better processes.

Seven Action News reached out to the professor. He said he had no comment on the allegations against him or the lawsuit.

University of Michigan Spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald released the statement below.

“Bruce Conforth was a former lecturer in American Culture who’s U-M employment ended in 2017.

Mr. Conforth admitted to allegations of sexual misconduct that were made and a separation agreement outlined his permanent removal from the university, no contact with students and other requirements. The university was prepared to initiate dismissal proceedings had he not first resigned.

Mr. Conforth was covered by a collective bargaining agreement that includes a several-step process before an employee can be dismissed. Any employee may resign before that process is complete. The university, or any employer, does not need to agree for an employee to resign. It is important to note in this situation that Mr. Conforth was not offered anything (compensation, benefits, etc.) in exchange for his resignation. 

The university took the necessary actions, outlined in a separation agreement, to permanently remove Mr. Conforth from the university community and restrict him from any further contact with students.

The university continues to take extraordinary measures to put critical protections in place for students and all members of our community on top of earlier protections. We continue to work with the nationally recognized consulting firm of Guidepost Solutions on additional measures.

We have added new policies that prohibit teacher-learner romantic relationships, that prohibit supervisor-supervisee relationships and strengthened our policy against any type of retaliation. And are developing a cultural change process that was outlined last summer.

We are in the process of adding significant staff to the newly formed Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, that will increase our prevention and education efforts while freeing up resources to focus sharply on investigating allegations of misconduct when they occur.”