Judge greenlights $73M sexual abuse settlement involving former UCLA gynecologist

A federal judge has given the go-ahead to a $73 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought against the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a former gynecologist alleging sexual abuse, the AP reports.

The suit alleged that thousands of female patients seen by James Heaps, M.D., between 1983 and 2018 were subjected to sexual abuse, sexual battery and emotional distress while he was employed by the university. These incidents allegedly occurred during examinations at the school’s student health center, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center or Heaps’ on-campus office.

Further, the suit alleged that UCLA had received “a substantial volume of complaints” dating at least as far back as 1999 but failed to adequately investigate the gynecologist and kept him on staff until June 2018.

UCLA reached its $73 million settlement agreement in 2020, in which former patients who filed a claim could receive an award ranging from $2,500 to $250,000 based on a review by an impartial three-person panel, according to the settlement website. The settlement will compensate more than 5,500 women, the plaintiffs’ legal representation said in a previous statement.

RELATED: Former Veterans Affairs doctor sentenced to prison for sexual abuse

The defendants did not acknowledge the charges of wrongdoing and liability in the settlement but did adopt new standards that, among other measures, require a trained chaperone to be present during sensitive procedures, require UCLA physicians to complete a boundaries training course and implement a new model for investigating alleged sexual harassment.

“While we can’t comment on the specifics of today’s legal action, we can say unequivocally that sexual misconduct or abuse is inexcusable,” UCLA Health told Fierce Healthcare in a statement. “We remain committed to providing quality care that respects the dignity of every patient.”

Heaps was arrested in June 2019 and, according to the AP, currently faces 21 criminal charges of sexual abuse offenses.

The UCLA case echoes another sexual assault settlement involving nearby University of Southern California (USC) and its former gynecologist George Tyndall, M.D.

Tyndall had resigned in 2017 following the university’s internal investigations into hundreds of sexual abuse and harassment allegations and was arrested in early 2019. A combination of federal class-action agreements, a civil settlement and other payouts announced as recently as this year saw USC compensating plaintiffs a total of more than $1.1 billion.

Tyndall has pleaded not guilty to 25 counts of criminal sexual misconduct.

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