Another Southern California university has settled a massive lawsuit over student sexual abuse allegations against a longtime campus gynecologist. This time, the University of Southern California (USC) announced a record $1.1 billion settlement for mishandling complaints that gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall was sexually abusing students for years.
A Trilogy of Settlements
The mammoth settlement covers three separate lawsuits filed against the university. The most recent settlement requires USC to pay $852 million to 710 women. These women filed lawsuits in Los Angeles County Superior Court claiming that Tyndall sexually abused them while at USC. Last year, the university also agreed to a $215 million settlement to settle a separate federal class action lawsuit. A third group of lawsuits also reached an undisclosed settlement amount.
A retired judge will allocate the settlement funds among the women. USC intends to pay the settlement amount using litigation reserves, insurance, deferred capital spending, the potential sale of nonessential assets, and careful management of expenses.
Serious Abuse Allegations
George Tyndall was a staff gynecologist at the University of Southern California for almost three decades. In fact, for a period of his employment, he was the only gynecologist treating students. The immense volume of complaints against Tyndall goes back to the 1990s.
Former USC student patients say he made crude comments during exams and groped them under the guise of medical treatment. Further, the plaintiffs allege the doctor took inappropriate photos during pelvic examinations and even showed victims pictures of other patient’s genitals.
One victim summed up the vulnerability of young women at doctors’ offices when she said, “I thought it was odd, but what did I know? When he took his camera out to take pictures of me and asked me to participate in those photos, well, what did I know? I trusted him.”
The Los Angeles District Attorney is prosecuting Tyndall for 18 counts of sexual penetration and 11 counts of sexual battery by fraud. The abuse allegations against Tyndall span 2009 through 2016. His victims range in age from 17-29. During the criminal investigation, LAPD officials found more than 1,000 sexual videos unrelated to the student victims and explicit pictures which appear to have been taken “in the course of his employment” at USC. If convicted, Tyndall could go to prison for up to 53 years.
Throughout Tyndall’s USC tenure, coworkers and patients reported his inappropriate and abusive behavior to university authorities. Yet, Tyndall continued to see student patients. Finally, in 2016, the university suspended him after a frustrated nurse reported the abuse to the campus rape crisis center. This sparked a university internal investigation that determined his examinations “were outside the scope of current medical practice and amounted to sexual harassment of students.” In 2017, USC administrators let Tyndall quietly resign with a payout. USC failed to report this news to his former patients or the Medical Board of California.
After news broke on Tyndall’s dismissal, the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation, as USC is a recipient of federal funds. This investigation sought to examine any alleged violations against Title IX, a federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination. These results displayed stark differences from USC’s own hushed response. In the Department’s summary findings, it states, “Since at least 2000, the University had notice of possible sex discrimination in the form of sexual harassment by [Tyndall] of patients and systemically failed at multiple points in time and at multiple levels of responsibility to respond promptly and effectively to notice of the alleged misconduct during gynecological examinations; its failure may have allowed female students to be subjected to such discrimination for more than a decade.”
A Strong Signal for the Future
The USC payouts totaling $1.1 billion should send a signal to all universities that allowing campus sex abuse to go unchecked is unacceptable. What’s more, it’s an extremely costly mistake. Brett Sokolow, president of Title IX Administrators, calls the USC settlement “by far the largest sexual settlement ever.” There is no doubt that plaintiff attorneys will be on the lookout to seek justice on behalf of student victims suffering similar sexual abuse on campuses across the country. As for offending universities, the Department of Education’s Title IX administrators will certainly investigate any violations carefully.