University of Southern California (USC) students and alumni today filed a class action settlement agreement resolving claims related to gynecologist George Tyndall, M.D. that will require USC to adopt and implement procedures for identification, prevention, and reporting of sexual and racial misconduct. In addition to securing these changes, the settlement creates a $215 million fund for the benefit of Tyndall’s patients and gives each survivor a choice in how to participate.
The agreement, which is subject to court approval, was filed along with a motion for preliminary approval and supporting documents in the Central District of California, where Judge Stephen V. Wilson has been overseeing the federal proceedings. An agreement in principle was previously announced last year after several months of negotiations and mediations led by retired Federal District Court Judge Hon. Layn R. Phillips, who also successfully mediated the Michigan State University sex abuse scandal cases.
The $215 million in monetary compensation provided by the agreement recognizes all women who were patients of Tyndall, gives survivors a choice on how they want to participate, and delivers relief in a swifter and more private manner than litigation.
The class includes all women who were seen for treatment by Tyndall at the USC Student Health Center during the period from August 14, 1989 to June 21, 2016 for (a) for women’s health issues, or (b) whose treatment by Tyndall included an examination by him of her breast or genital areas, or (c) whose treatment included the taking of photographs or videotapes of her unclothed or partially clothed body. The payments for each class member will be determined as follows:
Tier 1: Every class member will receive an initial, minimum $2,500 payment in addition to being eligible for Tier 2 or Tier 3 payments. Those who can be identified through USC’s existing health center records will be automatically mailed a Tier 1 payment check for $2,500 once the settlement is effective. Those class members who could not be identified through USC’s records must submit a simple signed Statement of Class Membership Form to receive their $2,500 payment.
A court-appointed Special Master, with the assistance and guidance of a team of experts, including those in gynecology, psychology, psychiatry, PTSD, and the unique needs of sexual trauma survivors, will review Tier 2 and Tier 3 Claims. This approach has been successfully employed in other sexual assault settlements.
Tier 2: Each class member has the option to submit a Claim Form describing her experience with Tyndall, the impact to her, and the harm she suffered. Payments are between $7,500 and $20,000, subject to review by the Special Master and pro rata adjustments.
Tier 3: Each class member can also choose to provide information about her experience and its impact in the form of an interview by the Special Master’s team, in addition to the written Claim Form. Payments are between $7,500 and $250,000, subject to review by the Special Master and pro rata adjustments.
Claimants’ personally identifying information will be kept confidential and will not be shared with defendants.
“Based upon my extensive experience in this case and other complex actions, I believe that the settlement benefits provided to the class members as described above are fair and reasonable in light of the parties’ claims and defenses, and the expense, uncertainty and time inherent in litigating the class members’ claims to judgment,” said former Judge Phillips, who served as mediator, in his declaration in support of preliminary approval. “In particular, it is my considered judgment that Plaintiffs would be unlikely to have obtained more money and benefits without going through years of discovery and trial, where they would face substantial risks of a less favorable outcome.”
Class member Elisabeth Treadway, who attended USC from 1997 to 2001, commented that “before deciding to file a lawsuit against USC and Tyndall, I questioned how much of this horrible experience I could handle reliving and for how long. To see a fair and compassionate settlement proposed has been a relief. Settling this matter and finally being acknowledged will allow me to continue further on my healing journey.”
“I believe this settlement is the right resolution because it provides choice, unites the women affected by George Tyndall’s abuse, and ensures that this decades-long failure will never happen again,” said Girard Sharp client Shannon O’Conner, a class member who attended USC from 1991 to 1995. “I love USC, and by being a part of this settlement, I am fighting for a better future for my alma mater and its students.”
As part of the settlement, USC must also implement a series of reforms – with oversight from the court and class counsel – to ensure the safety of its students going forward. These include:
- The appointment of an Independent Women’s Health Advocate to receive complaints of improper sexual or racial conduct, confirm they are appropriately investigated, and ensure USC is in compliance with these new programs.
- Pre-hiring background checks of all new personnel at USC Student Health who are regularly expected to have direct patient interaction, with a focus on any history of sexual harassment or gender-based violence, in addition to annual education and performance reviews concerning identifying, reporting and preventing improper sexual and/or racial conduct.
- The adoption of “Sensitive Exam” practices consistent with the guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, with regular training to all USC Student Health personnel who assist with these exams.
- Maintain staffing so that all female students have the option of seeing a female physician, while providing all students with plain-language notice of how to recognize and report sexual harassment and gender-based violence by a healthcare provider.
- Online and offline opportunity for anonymous patient feedback concerning USC Student Health and its personnel.
- Mandatory training for all students designed to prevent sexual misconduct and sexual assault; USC to hire at least three full-time employees to develop and conduct trainings.
- Independent Task Force Member, appointed by class counsel, to serve on the Survey Task Force for the 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct at USC in the Spring of 2019. This task force will make policy change recommendations to USC based on the results of the survey, and the report will be made available to the USC community.
- If either the Independent Women’s Health Advocate or Independent Task Force Member believes that the goals of the provisions are not being met, they can elevate concerns to the special master and/or the court.
If the settlement receives preliminary approval, a notice will be sent to all class members with information on how to submit claims and the process for opting out or objecting. The notice will also indicate whether they have been pre-identified as class members through USC’s records. The settlement will become effective if the court grants final approval and once any appeals are exhausted. The official website for the settlement, run by a claims administrator, can be found here.