US university to pay over $1 bn in gynecologist sex abuse settlement

Hundreds of former patients sued the University of Southern California for failing to adequately respond to allegations against campus gynecologist George Tyndall
Hundreds of former patients sued the University of Southern California for failing to adequately respond to allegations against campus gynecologist George Tyndall Frederic J. BROWN AFP/File
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Los Angeles (AFP)

A top California university has agreed to pay more than $1 billion to hundreds of women who accused a former campus gynecologist of sexual abuse, lawyers representing plaintiffs said Thursday.

University of Southern California reached agreements totaling $852 million that were revealed at a Los Angeles court Thursday, on top of $215 million resulting from an earlier federal class action in 2018.

According to lawyer Gloria Allred, it is the "highest single sexual abuse and sexual harassment settlement against a university in civil litigation history."

George Tyndall has been accused of abuse by hundreds of female patients during medical examinations over the course of his 30-year career, in a scandal that has engulfed the university.

Accusations against Tyndall, ranging from inappropriate touching to rape, date as far back as 1990. The youngest accuser was aged 17.

The doctor, now 74, has been accused of taking photos of patients' genitals, groping their breasts and making lewd remarks about their physiques, as well as racist and homophobic comments.

He allegedly targeted minority students -- including many from the university's large Asian student population.

Thousands of former patients have sued the university for failing to adequately respond to the allegations against Tyndall, claiming that the institution was aware of the doctor's actions but continued to allow him access to students.

Tyndall was not investigated by USC officials until 2016, and was allowed to retire under an amicable agreement with the university, reportedly involving a $200,000 pay-off.

"The nurses who were sometimes present for his exams literally looked the other way," said plaintiff Jane Doe 48 at a virtual press conference Thursday.

- 'Deeply sorry' -

USC had already agreed to pay $215 million following a federal class action in 2018, but around 700 more plaintiffs opted out of that settlement and sued in state court.

The new "global settlement" announced Thursday at $842.4 million, plus around $10 million in other previously settled cases, brought the payout total to over $1 billion.

"The sheer size of this settlement is testimony to the enormous harm that the depraved action of George Tyndall caused our clients," said law firm Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, which represents 234 plaintiffs, in a statement.

"There are literally thousands of women that that man assaulted in that health center, and worse, USC... knew," added lawyer John Manly.

"The press materials that USC put out in 2018 that this was somehow a mystery to them were a damned lie. And we proved it."

The university's then-president resigned in 2018 amid pressure from two hundred professors to step down over the scandal.

Current president Carol Folt said in a statement Thursday: "I am deeply sorry for the pain experienced by these valued members of the USC community.

"We appreciate the courage of all who came forward and hope this much needed resolution provides some relief to the women abused by George Tyndall."

Los Angeles police opened their own investigation, and in 2019 the doctor was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual penetration and sexual battery by fraud against 16 young women.

He is awaiting trial and could face a sentence of up to 53 years in prison if convicted, the district attorney's office said.

Tyndall has denied any wrongdoing, and said in a 2019 statement that he "remains adamant" he will be "totally exonerated."