LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A federal judge in Los Angeles today gave preliminary approval to a $215 million class-action settlement for women who claim they were sexually abused by former USC campus gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall.
“We are pleased that the court has granted preliminary approval,” according to a joint statement from the plaintiffs' lawyers. “This settlement gives every single woman who saw Tyndall a choice in how they want to participate and hold USC accountable, while also forcing the school to change to ensure this doesn't happen again. The judge's order is an important step toward providing each survivor the relief and measure of closure she deserves, and we look forward to obtaining final approval.”
USC Interim President Wanda M. Austin issued a statement saying the preliminary approval of the settlement “is a very important step forward in healing our community. The settlement provides every affected individual the opportunity for a fair and respectful resolution, and it contains additional reforms that will build upon the impactful changes we have already made to strengthen our university.”
In a letter sent to the USC community, Austin stressed that the university has “significantly strengthened operations and oversight at the Student Health Center.”
“This includes new protocols to ensure any complaints are investigated and resolved by appropriate university officials and authorities,” she said. “Additionally, we have hired female, board-certified physicians and introduces groundbreaking patient education materials about sensitive examinations.”
Tyndall and USC have been sued by hundreds of alleged victims, many of whom claim they were inappropriately fondled or photographed by Tyndall under the guise of gynecological exams. Many have also accused him of making sexually charged comments during the exams.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson set a January hearing to discuss finalizing the settlement, under which Tyndall's former patients each would receive minimum payments of $2,500, in addition to being eligible to claim an award of between $7,500 to $250,000, subject to review by a three-member panel.
Beyond the payments, the settlement requires USC to institute a series of administrative changes, including the creation of a position for “an independent women's health advocate” to ensure complaints about improper sexual or racial conduct are investigated.
USC also must conduct background checks on health center employees that delve into prior history of sexual harassment allegations, in addition to improving staff training and bolstering staffing so that female students have the option of seeing a female doctor.
The class includes as many as 17,000 women seen by Tyndall at the USC Student Health Center between Aug. 14, 1989, and June 21, 2016, whose treatment included an examination of their breast or genital areas by the physician.
In still-pending lawsuits filed in state court by various attorneys on behalf of hundreds of women, the plaintiffs contend that the university received numerous complaints of Tyndall's alleged sexually abusive behavior, dating back to at least 1988, and actively and deliberately concealed his actions. Attorneys for some former patients allegethat following an internal investigation of complaints against Tyndall in 2016, the university paid Tyndall a substantial financial settlement so he would quietly resign.
USC officials have denied any coverup, and Tyndall has denied any wrongdoing.
In an open letter to faculty and staff in May 2018, USC Provost Michael Quick said top administrators did not know about the complaints until 2016.
“It is true that our system failed, but it is important that you know that this claim of a cover-up is patently false,” Quick wrote. “We would never knowingly put students in harm's way.”
Los Angeles Times reporters Matt Hamilton, Harriet Ryan and Paul Pringle were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism in April for their work uncovering the long-running sexual abuse allegations against Tyndall. The Times' investigation into Tyndall began in early 2018 after Ryan received an anonymous phone tip.
The uproar over the Tyndall allegations, on the heels of other misconduct cases involving different campus doctors, ultimately led USC President C.L. Max Nikias to step down.
USC established a hotline for complaints about Tyndall and has offered free counseling to his former patients.