Former Patients of UCLA Gynecologist Urged to Opt Out of Settlement

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Attorneys representing former UCLA students who allege they were sexually abused by disgraced ex-campus gynecologist/oncologist James Heaps urged other former patients to opt out of a $73 million federal class-action settlement before the May 6 deadline.

A federal judge in January gave preliminary approval of the settlement in which the University of California system agreed to pay $73 million to more than 5,500 women who were patients of Heaps, who has been charged with 20 felony counts of sexual assault.

The agreement -- which requires the judge's final approval in July -- is part of a class-action suit against the university and Heaps brought by women who allege they were sexually abused and assaulted by the doctor at UCLA medical facilities. The settlement also requires UCLA to ensure stronger oversight procedures for identification, prevention and reporting of sexual misconduct.

At least 300 former Heaps patients have opted out of the settlement, said John Manly, an attorney whose firm represents 135 of those women, all of whom have filed individual lawsuits against UCLA.

During a news conference at UCLA's front gate, Manly said the settlement “protects UCLA and benefits the lawyers. It doesn't benefit the survivors. Such settlements protect the institutions from having to produce witnesses and documents and from allowing survivors to find out who (in the administration) hid evidence and allowed the abuse to continue for so many years.''

Heaps' alleged victims must take action to opt out of the settlement by May 6 if they do not wish to be bound by its terms. U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner is set to give final approval July 12 in Los Angeles federal court.

Originally filed in 2019, the class-action lawsuit accuses Heaps of assault, abuse and harassment and accuses UCLA of failing to protect his patients after becoming aware of the misconduct.

The entirety of the $73 million would go toward compensating more than 5,500 women who received treatment from Heaps at either the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center from 1986-2018, the school's student health center from 1983-2010 or Heaps' university medical office from 2014-18.

The behavior alleged in the lawsuit includes sexual abuse during examinations, recommending unnecessary procedures and overly frequent examinations to create additional opportunities for abuse, making inappropriate and sexually suggestive comments and removing patients' clothing or gowns without consent.

Heaps, 67, has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges that he sexually abused seven patients.

When the agreement was first announced, Manley said that under the deal, “members of the class action are guaranteed to receive just $2,500, and at absolute maximum can receive only $250,000.''

“The average amount that a victim will receive (is) $11,000,'' Manly said at the time.

The lawsuit alleged that while patients complained about Heaps years earlier, it was not until late 2017 that allegations of sexual misconduct by the gynecologist were reported to UCLA's Title IX office and a formal investigation was opened.

Heaps was allowed to continue seeing patients -- both during the investigation and after UCLA informed Heaps that his contract would not be renewed when it expired on June 30, 2018.

UCLA ended Heaps' employment and notified law enforcement of the allegations against him on June 14, 2018. In June 2019, Heaps was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual battery. Following his arrest, many more women came forward to report alleged sexual misconduct. In August 2020, Heaps was charged with additional felonies.

In addition to compensation, the university has undertaken a series of reforms, including implementing a new investigation model for sexual harassment/sexual assault and training for UCLA medical facilities personnel on provider-patient boundaries and on conducting sensitive examinations.

Last month, USC agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to former patients of ex-campus gynecologist George Tyndall, the largest sex abuse payout in higher education history. Tyndall -- the only full-time gynecologist at the student health clinic from 1989 until 2016 -- has pleaded not guilty to dozens of sexual assault charges and is awaiting trial.

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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