Federal Court Preliminarily Approves $215 Million Settlement in USC Gynecologist Sexual Misconduct Class-Action Lawsuit
LOS ANGELES – Today, a federal court preliminarily approved a $215 million settlement affecting thousands of current and former students of the University of Southern California culminating a class-action lawsuit against the university and its former gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, for his alleged decades-long sexual abuse of his patients that persisted despite USC’s knowledge, according to Hagens Berman.
The class-action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California details sexual abuse and violations by Dr. Tyndall, who subjected his patients to inappropriate touching, unnecessary penetration with his hands, lewd comments, photographing, and other acts of sexual harassment. The university knew of his behavior since at least the 1990s, according to the complaint.
“This settlement not only brings meaningful relief to this class of USC graduates and students, but stands as a testament both to the strength of these women, coming forward to tell their truth, and to the ability of class actions to create real positive impact for those who have suffered,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and attorney representing the class of USC alumnae and students.
“We are pleased that this proposed settlement will bring meaningful recovery to this class of women, without intensive litigation and discovery directed at the victims, and provides a relatively simple process to have their cases evaluated by a Special Master.”
The settlement’s three-tier claims structure allows class members to choose whether and in how much detail they wish to tell their story:
- Tier 1: Every class member will receive an initial, minimum $2,500 payment in addition to being eligible for Tier 2 or Tier 3 payments. Those who can be identified through USC’s existing health center records will be automatically mailed a Tier 1 payment check for $2,500 once the settlement is effective. Those class members who could not be identified through USC’s records must submit a simple signed Statement of Class Membership Form to receive their $2,500 payment. But $2,500 is just the minimum. Every class member is also eligible to make a Tier 2 or Tier 3 claim for an award up to $250,000. A three-member claims panel, made up of a Court-appointed Special Master and the Special Master’s selections for an OB/GYN and a forensic psychologist, will review and allocate Tier 2 and Tier 3 claims with the assistance and guidance of a team of experts, including those in gynecology, psychology, psychiatry, PTSD, and the unique needs of sexual trauma survivors.
- Tier 2: Class members have the option to submit a Claim Form describing her experience with Tyndall, the impact to her, and the harm she suffered. Payments are between $7,500 and $20,000, subject to review by the three-member panel and pro rata adjustments.
- Tier 3: Class members can also choose to provide information about her experience and its impact in the form of an interview with the team for the three-member panel, in addition to the written Claim Form. Payments are between $7,500 and $250,000, subject to review by the three-member claims panel and pro rata adjustments.
The settlement also focuses on accountability. USC will implement institutional changes to protect students and prevent abuse. This includes:
- Increased scrutiny and monitoring of health center employees, including pre-hiring background checks, credential verification, and annual education and performance reviews.
- Improved health center patient practices, including updated sensitive exam practices and allowing students to select a physician based on gender.
- New methods for collecting information about potential misconduct, including through the solicitation of patient feedback and implementation of plain-language notice for recognizing and reporting sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
- Appointment of an Independent Women’s Health Advocate. This independent (non-USC) individual, to be selected jointly by the parties and approved by the Court, will serve a three-year term. The Advocate will (a) receive complaints of improper sexual or racial conduct reported by any patient, student, and/or personnel at the Student Health Center; (b) confirm that all such complaints are investigated by either the USC’s Office of Professionalism and Ethics and/or the Office of Equity and Diversity and/or Title IX Officer; and (c) ensure USC compliance with changes required by settlement and to report, as appropriate, any failures of this process to USC’s Senior Vice President, Legal Affairs and Professionalism. If the Advocate believes the requirements and goals of the settlement are not being sufficiently addressed by USC, she can raise those concerns to Class Counsel, the Panel, and ultimately, the Court, for resolution.
- Development of new training programs for USC students and staff designed to prevent sexual misconduct and sexual assault.
- Appointment of an Independent Consultant with expertise in university best practices related to prevention and response to sexual assault and misconduct, who will be put on the USC Task Force responsible for conducting a wide-ranging climate survey of USC students as well as existing USC policies and procedures for the disclosure, reporting, and response to sexual violence on campus, and make recommendations of changes to implement in light of the survey results. The report and recommendations of the Task Force will be released publicly to the USC community. If the Independent Consultant believes the requirements and goals of the settlement are not being sufficiently addressed by USC, she can raise those concerns to Class Counsel, the Panel, and ultimately, the Court, for resolution.
The settlement offers guaranteed relief to victims far more quickly than protracted litigation with its uncertain results.
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About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with nine offices across the country. The firm’s tenacious drive for plaintiffs’ rights has earned it numerous national accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.