Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
USC

Judge in USC Tyndall Sex Abuse Gender Violence Case Issues Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Renewed Motion for Preliminary Settlement Approval

On June 13, 2019, Judge Steven V. Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued an order granting Plaintiffs’ renewed motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement of the gender violence and sexual abuse litigation against Dr. George Tyndall and the University of Southern California. The settlement will require USC to adopt and implement procedures for identification, prevention, and reporting of sexual and racial misconduct, as well as recognize the harm done to all of Tyndall’s patients through a $215 million fund that gives every survivor a choice in how to participate. 

Lieff Cabraser partner Annika K. Martin serves as Co-Class Counsel for the Plaintiffs in the litigation. The Class Counsel team noted, “We are pleased that the Court has granted preliminary approval. This settlement gives every single woman who saw Tyndall a choice in how they want to participate and hold USC accountable, while also forcing the school to change to ensure this doesn’t happen again. The Judge’s order is an important step toward providing each survivor the relief and measure of closure she deserves, and we look forward to obtaining final approval.”

Judge Wilson’s Order notes that the Court will likely certify a Settlement Class composed of approximately 14,000-17,000 women for purposes of judgment in the litigation. That Class is defined as: “All women who were seen for treatment by Dr. George M. Tyndall at the University of Southenl Califonlia student heath center during the period from August 14, 1989 to June 21, 2016 (a) for Women’s Health Issues, or (b) whose treatment included an examination by him of her breast or genital areas, or (c) whose treatment inchided the taking of photographs or videotapes of her unclothed or partially clothed body.” A Final Approval Hearing on the case will be held on January 6, 2020.

The settlement’s tiered structure for recovery allows victims of Tyndall’s decades of abuse and assault 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 guaranteed minimum $2,500, no questions asked. 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.

The claim process makes available two additional tiers of recovery above the guaranteed minimum $2,500 Tier One amount. The additional Tiers are structured around allowing victims to choose their level of engagement with the process – if they only want to submit a written claim, they can do that, which choice allows them a specified range of potential claim payments exceeding the $2,500 floor; if claimants are willing and able to provide an interview, they can be eligible for a range reaching up to $250,000. At all levels, the settlement is focused on allowing victims a safe and orderly process through which to come forward, where they will have control over their level of engagement and comfort.

The settlement also requires USC to implement institutional changes to protect students and prevent abuse. These changes were developed by leading experts in the field, and include policy and procedure changes at the Student Health Center; appointment of an Independent Women’s Health Advocate to implement required changes and ensure reports of improper sexual conduct at the Health Center are properly investigated; and convention of a Task Force—including an independent expert specializing in university best practices related to prevention and response to sexual assault and misconduct—to recommend university-wide changes to prevent sexual violence on campus. Both the Independent Women’s Health Advocate and the Independent Task Force member will ensure USC compliance with changes required by settlement and, if they believe the requirements and goals of the settlement are not being sufficiently addressed by USC, they can raise those concerns to Class Counsel, and ultimately, the Court, for resolution.

These institutional changes are of particular importance to survivors and current students alike. Four USC student leaders submitted a declaration in support of the proposed settlement. “The reforms set out in the Report are important steps toward changing the way things are done at USC, and ensuring that the University invests in real protection for its students that empowers them to feel safe on their own campus. While financial compensation for survivors is important, these kinds of reforms are an essential part of making survivors whole,” stated Shany Ebadi ’19 (Chief Diversity Officer, USC Undergraduate Student Government), Jessica O’Connor ’20 (Vice President of External Affairs, Trojan Advocates for Political Progress), Joy Shin ’19 (Executive Director, USC Asian Pacific American Student Assembly) and Katherine Thanos ’20.

History of the Case

On June 5, 2018, Lieff Cabraser and co-counsel filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of women who were sexually abused, harassed, and molested by gynecologist George Tyndall, M.D., while they were students at University of Southern California.

While attending USC as a student, the representative Plaintiff—who is named only as Jane Doe 1 to protect her privacy—was forced to repeatedly seek medical treatment from Tyndall, who was the only full-time gynecologist on staff at USC’s Student Health Clinic. The lawsuit alleges Tyndall used this position of trust and authority to repeatedly sexually abuse the Plaintiff and potentially thousands of other class members, women who were examined by Dr. Tyndall at USC. Read a copy of the Class Action Complaint.

Nature of the Abuse

Plaintiff and the class members are or were female students attending USC who sought gynecological care through the USC student health system and were patients of Tyndall during his tenure at USC. Plaintiff and other members of the Class had no reason to suspect Tyndall was anything other than a competent and ethical physician. Knowing that Plaintiff and other class members 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 Plaintiff 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.

Additional information about the USC/Tyndall sexual abuse litigation.