University of California to Pay $243 Million to Settle Sexual Abuse Claims – The New York Times

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The settlement is the second in a case in which a gynecologist at U.C.L.A. is accused of sexual misconduct.

The University of California has agreed to pay $243 million to settle the claims of 203 women who alleged sexual misconduct by a gynecologist at the Los Angeles campus, the latest among several nine-figure payouts that universities have announced in recent years in response to sexual abuse allegations.
The payout in the case of Dr. James Heaps, who was affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles, in various roles from 1983 to 2018, comes on top of a $73 million settlement made public in November 2020 to resolve a class-action suit that involved more than 5,000 people who had been patients of Dr. Heaps since the 1980s.
About 600 women opted out of that class-action suit, and the new agreement, announced on Tuesday, settles the claims of 203 of them.
The civil settlements are separate from the criminal case against Dr. Heaps, who faces 21 felony counts of sexual abuse during medical examinations, according to an indictment.
The allegations against Dr. Heaps, which span two decades, include that he used a painful vaginal examination technique, inappropriately touched women during exams, unnecessarily touched a patient’s genital piercing, groped patients’ breasts during breast exams, and made inappropriate sexual comments to patients and employees, according to a May 2020 U.C.L.A. special committee report that reviewed accusations of sexual misconduct in clinical settings.
Dr. Heaps, who was initially charged in June 2019, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. A lawyer for Dr. Heaps, Leonard B. Levine, said his client was not part of the civil settlement and does not approve of it.
“He has adamantly denied engaging in any of the conduct he has been accused of,” Mr. Levine said. “He remains confident that if the charges are litigated in a court of law, he will be totally exonerated.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a statement that they hope Tuesday’s settlement will “cause a reckoning” at the university and force leaders to place student welfare above the desire to protect the “Bruin brand,” referring to the U.C.L.A. mascot.
“The sheer size of this settlement evidences the enormous harm that the depraved actions of James Heaps, which was enabled by U.C.L.A., caused our clients,” the statement said. “It also speaks to the culpability of U.C.L.A. in employing Heaps for 35 years and ignoring volumes of complaints and evidence of Heaps violating his role as a physician.”
At a news conference, one of the lawyers, John Manly, of the law firm Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, said he hoped the size of the settlement would send a message to U.C.L.A. and leaders of other academic institutions that looking away from sexual misconduct could be costly.
“If you do this, if you don’t stop systemic criminal conduct,” he said, “be it by a doctor, the president of the university or anybody else at your school, you will be held accountable.”
Standing by Mr. Manly on Tuesday was Kara Cagle, a woman who said she wrote a three-page letter to U.C.L.A. officials shortly after she was abused by Dr. Heaps during a medical examination. Ms. Cagle said she had been undergoing treatment for a rare form of breast cancer. The experience with Dr. Heaps, she said, left her “violated, embarrassed and humiliated.”
“U.C.L.A.’s response was dismal,” Ms. Cagle said. “No interview. No validation. Today, after eight long years, I received recognition of what happened to me. Although there is some consolation in that, my heart breaks for all the women who were not spared, all the women who suffered after me because U.C.L.A. refused to act.”
In a statement, U.C.L.A. officials said they admired the courage of the plaintiffs in coming forward. They also said that University of California leadership has taken “substantial action” to address issues brought up in litigation, including stronger policies and procedures to prevent and respond to allegations of sexual misconduct by a clinician.
“The conduct alleged to have been committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to the university’s values,” the statement said. “Our first and highest obligation will always be to the communities we serve, and we hope this settlement is one step toward providing healing and closure for the plaintiffs involved.”
2013: Penn State University. The university agreed to pay nearly $60 million to 26 sexual abuse victims of the former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in 2012 of abusing young boys in a scandal that shook the world of college football.
2018: Michigan State University. Victims of Lawrence G. Nassar, a former school physician and team doctor for U.S.A. Gymnatics who sexually abused athletes both from the school and outside it, reached a $500 million settlement with the university. Nassar was sentenced to what amounted to life in prison.
2020: Ohio State University. The university agreed to pay $41 million (which has grown to more than $46 million) to resolve some of the lawsuits stemming from several hundred claims of sexual assaults committed by Richard H. Strauss during his nearly 20 years as a doctor in the school’s athletic department.
2021: University of Southern California. A $1.1 billion settlement with the former patients of George Tyndall, a campus gynecologist who was accused of preying on hundreds of patients, set a record for collegiate sex abuse payouts.
2022: University of Michigan. The university reached a $490 million settlement with more than 1,000 people who had accused Robert E. Anderson, a doctor who worked with football players and other students, of decades of sexual abuse.
Mr. Levine, Dr. Heaps’s lawyer, said he has filed a motion to dismiss the indictment because exculpatory evidence was not presented to the grand jury, including medical records and statements from chaperones who were present during the medical examinations. Mr. Levine said he was struck that the civil payout came before the criminal case was litigated.
University officials have “made a decision that they’re better off settling the case than proceeding,” Mr. Levine said. “Dr. Heaps is not going to settle a case when he believes he is innocent of the charges, and he has not admitted any wrongdoing in the civil cases either.”
In recent years, the #MeToo movement has shined a spotlight on sexual harassment and abuse throughout American society. Universities have faced their own reckoning, as widespread abuses of students have been revealed in other high-profile cases. The payouts have often been costly.
In May 2018, Michigan State University agreed to a $500 million settlement with 332 women and girls who said they were abused by Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar. The university’s president described the settlement as a step “important for the healing process, not only for the survivors, but also for the university community.”
The University of Southern California in March announced that it would pay more than $1.1 billion to the former patients of a campus gynecologist accused of preying sexually on hundreds of patients in what university officials called “the end of a painful and ugly chapter in the history of our university.”
The staggering sum — a combination of three sets of settlements with hundreds of alleged victims of the gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall — set a record for collegiate sex abuse payouts, compensating a generation of young U.S.C. women.
And last month, less than a week after its board ousted its president for a relationship with a subordinate, the University of Michigan announced it would pay $490 million to more than a thousand people who had accused a doctor who worked with football players and other students of sexual abuse.
The doctor, Robert E. Anderson, who died in 2008, was accused by scores of students of molesting them during physical examinations, many of which were required to participate in athletic programs at Michigan.


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