LOS ANGELES (CN) - Women who said former University of Southern California gynecologist George Tyndall sexually abused them settled their claims for $215 million, ushering in an era of wide-ranging reforms at the university.
In a federal class-action lawsuit filed in May 2018, former patients said Tyndall routinely made inappropriate, sexually suggestive comments, took photographs of them, groped them and forced them to strip naked “for no other reason than to satisfy his own prurient sexual desires.”
They also accused the university of ignoring complaints from hundreds of students and alumni about Tyndall’s sexually abusive behavior for years, possibly as far back as 2000.
USC Interim President Wanda M. Austin said in a statement that Tuesday's settlement is an important step in the healing process for abused former patients.
“Every affected individual is a member of the Trojan family and we care deeply about their wellbeing,” Austin said. “Providing a fair and respectful resolution to as many former, impacted patients as possible, and making impactful changes that strengthen our university continues to be our top priorities.”
In addition to the payout, the settlement requires the university to undertake a massive policy change in how it identifies, prevents and reports both racial and sexual abuse on campus.
USC must run background checks on all its physicians and implement a mandatory training for students and staff on how to identify and prevent sexual abuse and racism.
The university must also hire an independent campus advocate for abuse survivors.
A USC spokesperson said in a statement that the university will commit to policy changes mandated by the settlement, including offering the option of a female physician to all patients.
Tyndall, who has denied the allegations, resigned in 2017 after 30 years with the university.
So far, he faces no criminal charges although prosecutors with the Los Angeles district attorney’s office have received notice of the complaints against him.
Former university president C.L. Max Nikias also stepped down shortly after the former patients filed their lawsuit.
Students and alumni had called for Nikias’ resignation over the lack of a timely, comprehensive response from the university’s administration to the complaints.
Claims of abuse by former patients were either ignored or not reported to the state medical board, according to the Los Angeles Times, which was the first to report the allegations against Tyndall.
The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating the school.
Former patients can receive anywhere between $2,500 and $250,000 if they speak in person with an abuse claims assessor and submit written testimony.
The settlement class is comprised of female patients treated by Tyndall between Aug. 14, 1989 and June 21, 2016.
A hearing on settlement approval for four consolidated federal lawsuits is set for April 1 in Los Angeles before U.S District Judge Stephen V. Wilson.
The former patients will also ask Judge Wilson to approve a special master to oversee abuse claims evaluations and to conduct interviews with survivors.
Attorneys for the parties did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
The settlement doesn’t appear to be the final chapter in the university’s sex abuse saga. Earlier this week, six male graduates who identify as gay or bisexual filed a lawsuit accusing Dr. Dennis Kelly – another former campus doctor – of giving them unnecessary rectal exams to embarrass them or satisfy his own sexual desires and making demeaning comments about their sex lives.
A university spokesperson said the allegations are being looked into.
"We are aware of the lawsuit and are concerned by its allegations. We’re working to understand the facts of this matter. We care deeply about our entire Trojan family, including our LGBTQ+ community, and take this matter very seriously. We will provide more information as it’s available," the spokesperson said in a statement.
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