The University of Southern California has agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to former patients of campus gynecologist George Tyndall, the largest sex abuse payout in higher education history.
The huge sum was revealed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court as lawyers for a final group of about 700 women suing the university told a judge they had settled their claims for $852 million.
USC previously agreed to pay thousands of other alumnae and students $215 million in a 2018 federal class action settlement. A group of about 50 other cases were settled for an amount that has not been made public.
The sole full-time gynecologist at the student health clinic from 1989 until 2016, Tyndall was accused of preying on a generation of USC women. After the Los Angeles Times exposed his troubled history at the university three years ago, the 74-year-old was stripped of his medical license and arrested. He has pleaded not guilty to dozens of sexual assault charges and is awaiting trial.
The USC settlement dwarfs recent payouts in other university scandals. Michigan State University paid $500 million in connection with Larry Nasser’s sexual abuse of gymnasts and others; Penn State settled claims related to Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse for more than $109 million.
The total billion-dollar price tag reflected several factors. A 2019 state law, backed by former patients and their lawyers, temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for certain sexual assault lawsuits, allowing women to sue over appointments with Tyndall stretching back to the 1990s.
The sheer number of potential victims, some 17,000 women treated by Tyndall over three decades, also made a massive settlement inevitable.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys were also armed with evidence that university officials knew for decades of problems with the physician and failed to remove him. Internal personnel files detailed how again and again complaints about Tyndall were mishandled or ignored, lapses that led the U.S. Department of Education to sanction the university last year.
Within a few years of Tyndall’s arrival, clinic supervisors learned from a patient and colleagues that the doctor was taking photos of students’ genitals, a 2018 Times investigation found. Photos were later found in his personal storage unit and his office.
Nursing “chaperones” told to monitor his pelvic exams complained that he used a curtain to obscure their view. Students told clinic employees he asked prurient questions about their sex lives and made suggestive comments about their bodies. Nursing staff reported for years that he was touching students inappropriately during vaginal exams, with at least one co-worker threatening to go to the police.
Only after a frustrated nurse, Cindy Gilbert, reported Tyndall’s conduct to the campus rape crisis center in 2016 did USC suspend him and launch an internal investigation. Tyndall was allowed to quietly resign with a payout the following year, and USC never alerted the Medical Board of California until after The Times began contacting USC staff about him.
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