Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
USC

Claims Period Opens in USC Tyndall Sex Abuse Gender Violence Case

On July 12, 2019, formal notice was sent to over 150,000 women identified as possible victims of the sexual predation and misconduct of USC gynecologist George Tyndall over the last several decades. Notice is being transmitted by email, direct mail, and social media, and the official settlement website for the case is now live at https://www.usctyndallsettlement.com. Women who wish to submit claims or learn more about the settlement and the claims process should visit the website at their earliest convenience for full information about the USC/Tyndall Sexual Abuse Litigation settlement.

A national press release with information about the settlement was also issued today.

Earlier, 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. Ms. Martin noted, “We are pleased that the Court granted preliminary approval and that the notice program is moving forward today. 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 Southern California student health 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.