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Number of patients suing USC over sex abuse claims tops 300 as faculty push for Nikias' exit

Number of patients suing USC over sex abuse claims tops 300 as faculty push for Nikias' exit
USC President C.L. Max Nikias (Los Angeles Times)

The number of former patients suing USC for allegedly failing to protect them from sexual abuse at a campus health clinic increased to more than 300 this week amid a new push by university faculty to speed the departure of the outgoing president, C.L. Max Nikias.

The university’s trustees announced in May that Nikias had “agreed to begin an orderly transition” to a new president. At the time, the move appeared to be an attempt to quell outrage by professors and students over the handling of Dr. George Tyndall, the longtime campus gynecologist who was the subject of repeated complaints during his three decades at the student health center.

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But in the two months since, many faculty members have become concerned that Nikias might not actually be leaving. A petition addressed to the trustees and signed by more than 670 faculty members charged that there had been “no follow-up” in terms of naming an interim president or launching a search for a permanent replacement.

“We find ourselves in a state of turmoil and uncertainty,” the petition said, noting that students return to campus in less than three weeks. “President Nikias cannot be the one who stands up to greet new students at the Convocation.”

In a letter to the faculty Monday, the president of the academic senate, Dr. Yaniv Bar-Cohen, told colleagues that “there appears to be broad faculty consensus that it would be inappropriate for Nikias to continue in office during the search for a new permanent President.”

A university spokeswoman declined to answer questions about Nikias’ status or say whether trustees have formed a presidential search committee.

Tyndall, 71, has denied any wrongdoing and said his exams were always appropriate. His civil attorney did not return requests for comment Tuesday.

In this week’s lawsuits, 90 women and one transgender man echoed previously filed allegations that the doctor improperly touched patients’ genitals during exams and made lewd comments about their bodies.

One woman who saw Tyndall in the late 1990s said he remarked about how “small” her vagina was and how “lucky” her boyfriend was, according to the suit. Another woman who sought treatment for a cyst near her vagina around 2005 said he probed her with his fingers and told her, “You’re going to make some man very happy someday.”

An Iranian-American woman who saw Tyndall in 2015 alleged Tyndall made derogatory remarks about her heritage, including “Persian women are child brides,” according to court papers.

A transgender man residing in Northern California alleged in the suit that during a 2005 gynecological appointment, Tyndall caused “extreme pain” in examining his genitals and also groped his breasts.

The new plaintiffs include a woman who saw Tyndall for care when she was studying at Mount Saint Mary’s University, an all-women college with a campus next to USC. The woman said that as an 18-year-old in the mid-1990s, she was referred to USC for healthcare because at the time, her college lacked an on-site clinic.

She alleged that Tyndall did not wear gloves during a “rough” exam of her breasts and that during a particularly painful pelvic exam, she pleaded with him to stop.

“He was very dismissive,” the woman, now a child psychologist residing in Orange County, said in an interview. “Then all of a sudden I just urinated on the table. He pulled his hand out and wiped and left the room…. I was just pretty humiliated and just in shock. This is what I have to go through for the rest of my life? That’s the creepiest doctor.”

A Times investigation in May outlined the allegations against Tyndall.

When allegations against Tyndall surfaced in the wake of The Times’ report, she said she recognized the physician’s photo in the news and contacted a law firm. On Monday, she met with an LAPD detective and reported the incident.

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Debbie Ream, a spokeswoman for Mount Saint Mary’s University, said that in 2001, the university opened up its own clinic at its campus near downtown L.A., ending the need to refer students to USC for treatment.

USC has indicated it wants to resolve the cases as a group and without a lot of legal wrangling. Trustee Chairman Rick Caruso said recently he wanted to see the cases settled “as quickly as possible.”

The Times reported an internal USC investigation determined that Tyndall’s behavior during pelvic exams was outside the scope of current medical practice and amounted to sexual harassment of patients. But in a secret deal last summer, top administrators allowed Tyndall to resign quietly with a financial payout.

The university did not inform Tyndall’s patients. Nor did USC report him at the time to the Medical Board of California, the agency responsible for protecting the public from problem doctors.

USC told The Times in a statement that it was under no legal obligation to report Tyndall. The statement said that “in hindsight,” USC should have reported him.

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