Judge denies SU’s motions to dismiss sexual abuse lawsuits

Editor’s note: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault.

An Onondaga County judge denied Syracuse University’s motions to dismiss two lawsuits involving sexual abuse allegations against former Olympic athlete and student Conrad Mainwaring. 

The two lawsuits, filed separately in the Onondaga County Supreme Court in February 2020, allege that SU “knowingly and willingly failed” to conduct proper investigations into credible claims that Mainwaring was abusing young boys in his dorm, where he worked as a resident adviser.

In one case, SU tried to seek dismissal by arguing that the plaintiff, who was 17 years old when the abuse occurred in 1982, could not be protected by the Child Victim Act because he had reached the age of consent — an argument the judge rejected and called “misplaced.”

In both cases, the judge denied SU’s motions to dismiss claims of negligence against the university. The judge also denied the university’s motion to dismiss allegations of negligent hiring, supervision, retention and training. 

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The judge granted motions to dismiss claims against SU’s Board of Trustees, since the plaintiff did not specifically address the board’s role in the allegations. 

Per university policy, SU does not comment on pending litigation, said Sarah Scalese, senior associate vice president for university communications, in a statement. 

Mainwaring, who was an SU graduate student in the 1980s, has been accused of molesting multiple SU students during his time on campus, allegations that were first brought to light in an ESPN investigation. At least 14 men in the Syracuse area have accused Mainwaring of abuse, including at least seven who were local high school students at the time.

From about 1980 until 1986, Mainwaring provided counseling, coaching and advice to student athletes, including high school students, in the city of Syracuse, the lawsuits state. It is unclear whether Mainwaring was ever contracted as a coach at SU.

Plaintiff Robert Druger, a Camillus eye surgeon, is suing the Syracuse City School District and its Board of Education, in addition to SU. The other plaintiff, John Shapiro, from California, is also suing a Massachusetts summer camp where he interacted with Mainwaring.

Druger, whose willingness to come forward has been credited with leading to Mainwaring’s arrest in June 2019, alleged that Mainwaring used his Brewster/Boland/Brockway complex dorm room at SU to rub, fondle and masturbate Druger.

SU did not properly vet, screen or research Mainwaring and provided him “unfettered and unsupervised access” to campus facilities to meet with underage male high school students and young male college students, the lawsuit alleges.

The university allowed minors and male college students to meet with Mainwaring privately in his dorm room and stay overnight, the lawsuit alleges. Druger’s abuse continued from the time he was 17 until he graduated from SU, the suit says.

Shapiro said SU allowed him to stay overnight in Mainwaring’s dorm room on at least two occasions in 1981 and 1982 when he was 16 and 17. He was sexually abused, molested and sexually assaulted both times, the lawsuit alleges.

Mainwaring met with victims in his dorm room under the guise of “physiotherapy,” “physical therapy” and mental training sessions, the lawsuits claim.

Druger and Shapiro both allege that SU was aware Mainwaring was sexually abusing and assaulting minor students prior to their abuse. Despite “warnings, notice and red flags,” the university continued to allow Mainwaring access to isolated, one-on-one meetings with young men that led to abuse, the lawsuits state.

SU said it first learned of allegations against Mainwaring in February 2019. The university acknowledged he was a graduate student in the 1980s and worked in the university’s dorms. As of SU’s August 2019 statement, Chancellor Kent Syverud said the university had hired an external law firm to conduct a review of the allegations.

Many of Mainwaring’s victims were members of his “squad,” a group of students and young males whom he coached and advised, ESPN reported.

After his five years in Syracuse, Mainwaring worked 40 miles away at Colgate University from 1985 to 1987 in the admissions office, according to ESPN’s report.

No charges have been filed against Mainwaring in Syracuse. He cannot be prosecuted for abusing the underage boys because the incidents happened too long ago, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told Syracuse.com.

At least one other man has sued SU for its role in Mainwaring’s sexual abuse. 

New York’s 2019 Child Victims Act extended the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims in the state from age 23 to 55. The law initially suspended the statute of limitations in such cases for one year and has since been extended to Aug. 14.

Contact Michael: [email protected] | @MichaelSessa3

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