In lawsuits, patients allege sexual abuse by former USC gynecologist

Six women on Monday filed civil lawsuits against the University of Southern California (USC), claiming that a former gynecologist at the university had sexually abused them during medical exams at the university's student health clinic and that USC failed to respond to staff complaints about the doctor's conduct.

The university's provost in a statement apologized to students, saying, "This should never happen to anyone," while saying that claims the university had covered up complaints are "patently false."

Background

The lawsuits stem from a Los Angeles Times investigation published last Wednesday.

The investigation claims the doctor, George Tyndall, 71, sexually abused patients at USC over several years. Tyndall worked as a gynecologist at USC's student health clinic for about three decades.

Concerns over Tyndall's conduct emerged in the 1990s, according to the Los Angeles Times investigation. These complaints were under the purview of the health center's then-director. The director did not bring them to the university administration and died in 2016.

In 2016, Cindy Gilbert, a supervising nurse, reported her concerns over Tyndall's behavior to USC's campus rape crisis center, after she became frustrated that clinical administrators had not taken previous complaints against Tyndall seriously, according to the Los Angeles Times. After Gilbert's report to the rape crisis center, Tyndall was suspended and placed on paid leave. He was barred from visiting the clinic for about a year as the university conducted an internal investigation into his conduct.

USC determined that Tyndall had conducted pelvic exams that were not within the scope of accepted medical practice and amounted to sexual harassment, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Tyndall, however, has said he provided thorough and appropriate medical exams during his time at USC. He said his consultations with late adolescents who attended USC included frank conversations about their sex lives, but he told the Los Angeles Times he "never had any sexual urges" toward his patients.

USC reached a confidential agreement with Tyndall that allowed him to resign from his position with an undisclosed payout, the Los Angeles Times reports. USC did not report to the medical board when it reached the agreement.

Lawsuit details

Six women in three lawsuits claim Tyndall sexually abused patients while he was a physician at USC's student health clinic. The lawsuits are the first of many expected to be brought by his former patients by the end of the week, according to the New York Times. Louanne Masry, a lawyer at Taylor & Ring, a law firm representing one of the women, said, "We're getting lots of calls in. This is only going to grow."

The three lawsuits describe instances in which Tyndall allegedly touched the women inappropriately and made inappropriate sexual comments. For example, Lucy Chi in a lawsuit filed in the Central District of California claims Tyndall violated her in 2012 when he inserted his fingers in her vagina during a medical exam. Chi said came to regard his behavior as improper once she read the Los Angeles Times investigations, the paper reports.

In another lawsuit, a woman who graduated from USC's law school two years ago claims Tyndall inserted his fingers inside her at the beginning of a pelvic exam and commented on the tightness of genital muscles.

A woman also alleges Tyndall penetrated her vagina with his whole ungloved hand, the New York Times reports.

In addition, a woman also claims Tyndall groped her breasts and falsely said she "likely had AIDS."

Further, Tyndall has been accused asking inappropriate questions about anal or oral sex.

The lawsuits allege the university made an effort to cover up the allegations concerning Tyndall's misconduct.

Ronald Labriola, an attorney who is representing four of the women, said the plaintiffs will contend that the two-year statute of limitations is not applicable in this case. "For 99.95% of these patients, they didn't have a true understanding of the abuse until last week," he said, in reference to the recent Los Angeles Times report.

USC's response

Brenda Maceo, a USC spokesperson, said the university is "aware of the lawsuits," and added that USC is "focused on ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and providing support to those affected."

USC has opened a hotline for students to report complaints of abuse. According to the Los Angeles Times, so far about 300 patients have contacted the university about Tyndall.

On Tuesday, the university began providing the names of former patients to the Los Angeles police for a criminal investigation.

In addition, USC officials on Tuesday said they were cooperating with an inquiry launched by the Medical Board of California, which licenses and investigated physicians. According to the Los Angeles Times, the scope of the board's inquiry is unclear, as the agency does not speak about complaints or investigations publicly.

USC officials have recently said they should have removed Tyndall from his position sooner, given the severity of the allegations against him. Officials last week also said it had been a mistake to not report Tyndall to the medical board. A complaint was filed in March, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Michael Quick, USC's provost, in a statement said, "First, and most importantly, I apologize to our students who were mistreated by Dr. Tyndall. Full stop. This should never happen to anyone, least of all to one of our students."

In addition, Quick disputed the allegations of a cover-up. "I have seen media reports allege that the university leadership knew about Dr. Tyndall's misbehavior for a long time, and that we covered it up for the sake of the USC brand," Quick said. "This is absolutely untrue. It is unthinkable. It is true that our system failed, but it is important that you know that this claim of a cover-up is patently false."

Profs calls for USC president to step down

Meanwhile, a group of 200 professors at USC on Tuesday wrote a letter to the school's board of trustees that called for University President C. L. Max Nikias to resign. The group of professors wrote that they have come together to "express our outrage and disappointment over the mounting evidence of ... Nikias' failure to protect our students, our staff, and our colleagues from repeated and pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct."

In a response, John Mork the, chair board of trustees, said while they were "troubled by the distressing reports" about Tyndall, Mork and his peers "strongly support" Nikias.

At the board's request, Nikias prepared an action plan that calls for an overhaul of university ethics and a re-write of the university's Code of Ethics (Ryan et al., Los Angeles Times, 5/16; Arango, New York Times, 5/21; Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, 5/21; Abcarian, Los Angeles Times, 5/22; Hamilton et al., "L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 5/23; USC statement, 5/21).


Next in the Daily Briefing

You're using these 5 psychology terms all wrong

Read now