USC’s payment for complaints of sexual abuse by gynecologists exceeds $ 1 billion

USC agreed to pay more than $ 1.1 billion to former patients of campus gynecologist George Tyndall, the largest payment for sexual abuse in the history of higher education.

The huge sum was revealed in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday when attorneys for a final group of 710 women who sued the university told a judge they had settled their claims for $ 852 million.

USC previously agreed to pay thousands of other alumni and students $ 215 million in a 2018 federal class action settlement. A group of about 50 more cases was settled for an amount that has not been made public.

Tyndall, the only full-time gynecologist at the student health clinic from 1989 to 2016, was accused of preying on a generation of USC women. After The Times exposed his troubled story at the university three years ago, the 74-year-old was stripped of his medical license and arrested. He has pleaded not guilty to dozens of sexual assault charges and is awaiting trial.

USC President Carol Folt, who was appointed in 2019 to reform the university in the wake of the scandal, said in a letter to the school community that she hoped the agreement would “provide some relief to women abused by George Tyndall.”

“I deeply regret the pain experienced by the women who trusted him as a physician and I appreciate the courage of all who came forward,” he wrote.

The USC settlement overshadows recent payments in other college scandals. Michigan State University paid $ 500 million in connection with Larry Nasser’s sexual abuse of gymnasts and others, while Penn State settled claims related to Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse for more than $ 109 million.

Two mediators, Jeffrey Krivis and Superior Court Judge Daniel Buckley, who reviewed the evidence recommended the $ 852 million figure. The USC Board of Trustees unanimously approved the amount, according to President Rick Caruso.

The total price of $ 1.1 billion reflected several factors. A 2019 state law, backed by former patients and their attorneys, temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for certain sexual assault lawsuits, allowing women to sue for dates with Tyndall dating back to the 1990s.

The sheer number of potential victims, some 17,000 women treated by Tyndall over three decades, also made massive settlement inevitable.

Beong-Soo Kim University called the large number of prosecutors involved “the main factor” in the settlement amount.

“If you look at the number per claimant, I think the math is very comparable to the MSU settlement,” Kim said.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys were also armed with evidence that university officials knew for decades of problems with the doctor and did not remove him. Internal staff files detailed how complaints about Tyndall were repeatedly mishandled or ignored, failures that led the US Department of Education to sanction the university last year.

“Institutions don’t pay a billion dollars because nothing happened or they are not responsible,” said John Manly, whose Orange County law firm was co-director of the women who sued the university. “We were able to show in court that USC knew for the better part of 30 years that Tyndall was assaulting patients.”

Within a few years of Tyndall’s arrival, clinic supervisors learned from a patient and his colleagues that the doctor was taking photos of the students’ genitals, a 2018 Times investigation found. Photos were later found in his personal storage unit and in your office.

Nursing “chaperones” monitoring her pelvic exams complained that she used a curtain to obscure her vision. Students told clinic employees that he asked them lewd questions about their sex lives and suggestive comments about their bodies. Nursing staff reported for years that they touched students inappropriately during vaginal exams and that at least one co-worker threatened to go to the police.

It was only after a frustrated nurse, Cindy Gilbert, reported Tyndall’s misconduct to the campus rape crisis center in 2016 that USC suspended him and launched an internal investigation. Tyndall was allowed to quietly resign with a payment the following year, and USC never alerted the California Medical Board until after The Times began communicating with USC staff about him.

Caruso, the billionaire developer who was chosen shortly after the Tyndall scandal broke, acknowledged institutional failures in a letter to the community that described the deal as “the end of a painful and ugly chapter in our university’s history.”

“Our institution fell short by failing to do everything possible to protect those who matter most to us: our students,” Caruso wrote.

The $ 852 million settlement will be paid off in two years. USC said the money will come from insurance proceeds, as well as financial reserves, the deferral of capital projects, the sale of some “nonessential assets” and the tightening of the belt.

“No philanthropic donations, endowment funds or tuition will be diverted from their intended purposes,” Folt wrote in his letter to the community.

In an interview, he said he anticipated “tough decisions” in the coming years, noting that USC already has a $ 200 million budget gap due to the pandemic. Folt said administrators would review planned improvement projects and seek savings on discretionary expenses, such as travel and entertainment.

“There is nothing critical that does not happen at USC because of this,” Caruso said. “The student experience and the quality of education will not be affected.”

The 710 women who were part of Thursday’s settlement will receive an average payment of $ 1.2 million, although the exact distribution of the money was expected to vary based on individual allegations and would ultimately be determined by an arbitrator in the coming months.

USC alum Nicole Haynes, 46, was one of the women. She said Tyndall performed an unnecessary pelvic exam on her in 1995 after she sought treatment for food poisoning. The incident left her feeling violated, she said, and she applauded the deal as a way to hold the university accountable.

“I’m a staunch Trojan, and I’ve been putting it on my daughters’ heads too, but I didn’t feel comfortable sending her there after this,” Haynes said. “Pay a billion dollars and act together. All the other universities, if you don’t want to pay a billion dollars, put your actions together too.

The university’s handling of Tyndall sparked outrage on campus and led to the ouster of President CL Max Nikias. Although he apologized multiple times, Nikias insisted that he only learned of the allegations against the gynecologist in 2017, long after Tyndall’s departure.

During the last years of litigation, dozens of USC leaders were deposed, including Nikias’ deputy, former Chancellor Michael Quick, several nurses and medical staff, 15 former patients, Caruso, and Tyndall himself.

The university hired at least three law firms to defend lawsuits in state and federal courts, and the USC legion of lawyers routinely objected to the release of confidential internal files, including emails between trustees, separation agreements with former trustees, and correspondence with your crisis communications firm. The cost of USC’s legal defense is separate from the settlements and amounted to tens of millions of dollars, according to the university’s attorney general.

Attorneys for Tyndall’s patients planned to question Nikias under oath this winter, but the deposition appeared to be postponed and, in the end, he didn’t have to sit down and ask questions.

Nikias remains a non-voting faculty member and trustee. He has an office on campus as president emeritus.

When asked if the university was reexamining his status in light of the agreement, Caruso said the terms of Nikias’ original contract limited what USC could do.

“I think this is a time where Max really has to reflect on what is best for the university, what is best for the students and make a decision for himself,” Caruso said. “I think there is clarity in the answer to that, but I think it is he who should answer.”

Thursday’s state court settlement comes as former patients who joined the federal class action lawsuit receive a notice of their individual payments. In that lawsuit, USC agreed to pay $ 2,500 to each patient who saw Tyndall, regardless of whether he was charged with misconduct.

Patients were eligible to receive payments of up to $ 250,000 after attending interviews to describe Tyndall’s conduct and the impact on their lives, although the average payment among this group of patients was $ 96,330, according to court documents filed this week.

In announcing the deal, university officials pointed to the reforms instituted after Tyndall’s tenure. The student health center is now run by Keck Medicine, the medical school and the university health system. The clinic where Tyndall was practicing employs more gynecologists and the rape crisis center, the Sexual Violence and Relationship Prevention Program, which handled the nurse’s complaint against the doctor, has added 10 full-time employees.

Source link