Lieff Cabraser, Sauder Schelkopf LLC, Girard Sharp LLP, and Hagens Berman LLP announce that a $215 million settlement has been reached in the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of women who were sexually abused, harassed, and molested by gynecologist George Tyndall, M.D. while they were students at the University of Southern California (“USC”). The case will be settled as a class action, subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, on the basis of a class defined to include “all current or former female students who were seen for treatment by Dr. George M. Tyndall at USC’s student health center for women’s health issues (the ‘Settlement Class’).”
The settlement proposes a tiered structure for recovery that allows victims to choose the level of engagement they wish to have with the claims process and how they wish to communicate their stories. All women who USC’s records show saw Tyndall for a women’s health visit will automatically get a $2,500 check. In part, the automatic payments represent compensation for their school knowingly putting them at risk and in harm’s way by harboring and protecting Tyndall long after they knew he was acting inappropriately with student-patients, and continuing to grant him exclusive access and opportunity to abuse female student-patients.
Additionally, the claim process has two tiers of recovery above the baseline $2,500 Tier One amount. The Tiers are structured around allowing victims to choose their level of engagement with the process – if they only want to submit claims in writing, they can choose that, which allows them a certain range of potential claim payments above the 2,500 floor; if they are willing and able to provide an interview, they can be eligible for a range up to the highest $250,000 amount. But at all levels, it is about allowing victims a safe process in which to come forward, where they have control over how much they want to engage in the process and what they feel comfortable with.
“We are pleased to have reached a settlement with USC and George Tyndall on behalf of women who suffered violence, abuse, and harassment by Dr. Tyndall over the last several decades,” said Annika K. Martin, a partner at Lieff Cabraser who represents the plaintiffs. “The bravery demonstrated by the women who came forward to file the suit is incalculable, and the settlement demonstrates that those who stand up to fight for justice can achieve justice.”
As described in the settlement, “Tier 1 provides for the lowest Claim Award, on the basis of little to no engagement by the Settlement Class Members in the process. Tier 2 provides for a higher range of potential Claim Awards than Tier 1 based on a Claimant’s willingness to provide written information to the Special Master and, at the Special Master’s discretion, answer additional questions in writing that the Special Master may have. Tier 3 provides for the highest potential Claim Award based on the Claimant’s willingness to provide written information, optional additional evidence (if possessed by the Claimant), and an oral interview with a forensic psychologist or other designee of the Special Master.”
The settlement also requires USC to make changes and implement best practices for identifying and preventing misconduct and harassment, including that “USC’s medical personnel be required to act consistently with the best practice standards of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists under its scope certification program; and more generally, that USC adopt and implement adequate operating and oversight procedures for identification, prevention, and reporting of improper sexual or racial conduct at USC’s student health center. Such relief will include Court appointment of an agreed-upon independent (i.e., non-USC) individual with appropriate experience/expertise to ensure compliance with these procedures.”
The lawsuit was based on the claims of numerous women who alleged that while employed at USC as the only full-time gynecologist on staff at USC’s Student Health Clinic, George Tyndall used his position of trust and authority to repeatedly sexually abuse and harass them and potentially thousands of other class members, women who were examined by Dr. Tyndall at USC. The suit also alleged that despite USC’s public admission that it received numerous complaints of Tyndall’s sexually abusive behavior, dating back to at least the year 2000, USC actively and deliberately concealed Tyndall’s sexual abuse for years, continuing to grant Tyndall unfettered sexual access to the female USC students in his care, all to protect USC’s reputation and financial coffers.
“We are proud to have achieved this proposed settlement,” states attorney Joe Sauder of Sauder Schelkopf, who also represents the plantiffs. “It will assist in accomplishing well-deserved closure to the hundreds of female victims impacted by Dr. Tyndall’s actions, as well as, helping many victims to move forward with their lives rather than having to relive these events through the litigation process.”
According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs and the other members of the Class had no reason to suspect Tyndall was anything other than a competent and ethical physician. Knowing that plaintiffs and other members of the Class were trusting and vulnerable – and in many cases still teenagers who had never visited a gynecologist before – Tyndall used his position of authority to make plaintiffs and other victims fully disrobe for no reasonable medical purpose, then fondled and groped their breasts and other intimate areas while making suggestive and improper comments, used his fingers to penetrate their vaginas and genital regions for the purpose of his own sexual arousal and gratification, and engaged in verbal discussions about inappropriate sexual topics, for no legitimate medical purpose and for no other reason than to satisfy his own prurient sexual desires. Tyndall also made racially discriminatory and sexually harassing comments.
Through his employment with USC, Tyndall also allegedly used his position of authority as a medical professional to take hundreds of nonconsensual and medically unwarranted photographs of female genitalia under the guise of medical “treatment.” The class action complaint noted that Tyndall particularly targeted young students, many of whom were foreign students, and who were frequently unfamiliar with the nature of gynecological examinations as a result of their youth, inexperience, and/or cultural background. Many of these young women did not know that what Tyndall was doing during the examinations was not proper protocol and did not realize he was engaging in sexual misconduct, sexually violating them, and/or taking advantage of them.
As alleged in the complaint, beginning in approximately the 1990’s, USC began receiving reports from its students and employees regarding concerns about Tyndall’s conduct and “treatment” of his patients; nonetheless, USC failed to take any action in response to such complaints. USC received numerous complaints of serious misconduct, including sexual misconduct by Tyndall made to Tyndall’s supervisors and other administrators employed by USC, including but not limited to, the executive director of its health center and other university officials.
The complaint further alleged that rather than addressing and properly investigating the complaints, including taking appropriate disciplinary action and/or terminating the employment of Tyndall, USC kept the complaints secret to avoid negative publicity despite their actual knowledge of such misconduct, so that for over 30 years, Tyndall had unimpeded access to female students – many of them as young as 17 or 18 years old – through the student health clinics at USC.
USC hid the complaints despite the fact that many of the complaints came directly from its own employees and staff, including nurses and medical assistants who were physically present during the examinations as “chaperones,” and witnessed the sexual misconduct firsthand. Despite receiving years of serious complaints of significant misconduct about Tyndall, including sexual misconduct, USC failed to take any meaningful action to address the complaints until it was finally forced to do so in June 2016.
About Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Recognized as “one of the nation’s premier plaintiffs’ firms” by The American Lawyer, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP is a seventy-plus attorney law firm with offices in San Francisco, New York, and Nashville. Since our founding 46 years ago in 1972, Lieff Cabraser has litigated and resolved hundreds of class action lawsuits and thousands of individual cases, including the successful representation of thousands of women across America in class action lawsuits involving gender discrimination and in individual lawsuits due to the injuries they suffered from defective medical devices and defective prescription drugs.
About Sauder Schelkopf LLC
Sauder Schelkopf LLC is a nationally recognized class action and personal injury law firm. The firm’s partners have been selected by the National Trial Lawyers Association as some of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Pennsylvania since 2012. As former state prosecutors, the attorneys at Sauder Schelkopf have significant experience investigating and aggressively prosecuting hundreds of sexual assault cases on behalf of victims of all ages.
Annika K. Martin
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP
Joseph G. Sauder
Sauder Schelkopf LLC