Patients who accused UCLA doctor of sexual abuse to share $243.6-million settlement

Former UCLA gynecologist Dr. James Heaps, right, leaves Airport Superior Court in 2019.
Former UCLA gynecologist Dr. James Heaps, right, leaves court in 2019 accompanied by his wife, Deborah Heaps, and attorney Leonard Levine.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The University of California system has agreed to pay $243.6 million to settle lawsuits by more than 200 women, some of them cancer patients, who alleged they were sexually abused by a former UCLA gynecologist.

The agreement, announced Tuesday, covers 203 former patients who have sued over the conduct of Dr. James Heaps. It comes on top of a $73-million class-action settlement involving more than 5,000 patients from 1983 to 2018.

The settlement does not cover more than 300 patients who are continuing to sue. Heaps is also facing criminal charges involving seven of those patients.


The settlement amounts to $1.2 million for each plaintiff, similar to one USC struck last year that paid $852 million to more than 700 women who accused school gynecologist George Tyndall of sexual abuse, said John Manly, a lawyer for the lead plaintiff in the Heaps case.

Some women who said they were abused by Heaps called the settlement a vindication after complaining about the doctor for years and seeing little done.

“Today, after eight long years, I received recognition of what happened to me,” said Kara Cagle, a breast cancer survivor who reported Heaps while she was undergoing treatment at the university. “Although there is some consolation in that, my heart breaks for all the women who were not spared, all the women who suffered after me, because UCLA refused to act. What happened to those women is on UCLA. UCLA will have to live with what they’ve done or, rather, didn’t do. Let today be a wake-up call to other institutions.”

Another patient, Julie Wallach, said she hoped the payout would bring changes to the way UCLA handles reports of abuse.

“This is long overdue. Twenty-four years ago, in 1998, I was referred to Dr. James Heaps at UCLA. At that time, Dr. Heaps sexually abused and assaulted me. I filed a complaint against him with the California Medical Board. I chased down the powers that be at UCLA, who oversaw Dr. Heaps. Nothing was done,” she said.

The behavior of a prominent UCLA Health gynecologist during an exam with a married mother of four amounted to sexual assault and harassment, according to an investigative report by the university made public Thursday.

Dec. 5, 2019

Heaps faces 21 felony counts — including sexual battery by fraud, sexual exploitation of a patient and sexual penetration of an unconscious person — involving several female patients. He could be sentenced to more than 67 years in prison if convicted of all charges. He has pleaded not guilty and insists he acted in an appropriate manner, his lawyer said.


“He adamantly maintains his innocence, and we are currently litigating the case in the court of appeal,” said Leonard Levine, Heaps’ criminal attorney, who said he has sought a writ to toss a grand jury indictment and dismiss the criminal case. Levine said Heaps is not a party to any of the civil settlements.

The settlement comes as some of Heaps’ patients who have late-stage cancer have given depositions so their lawsuits can continue after their deaths. The deal was struck in mediation, Manly said.

“This historic settlement allows these brave women to achieve their litigation goals of accountability and compensation, paving the path for their continued healing,” Manly said in confirming the settlement. “What this says is when two of the largest hospitals in our county both have long-term sexual predators practicing medicine, there is a problem in the systems. What my clients hope is UCLA and the entire UC system dramatically change their policies to address the issues here.”

In a statement announcing the settlement, UCLA denounced the doctor, saying: “The conduct alleged to have been committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to the University’s values. Our first and highest obligation will always be to the communities we serve, and we hope this settlement is one step toward providing healing and closure for the plaintiffs involved. We admire the courage of the plaintiffs in coming forward and appreciate plaintiffs’ counsel’s commitment to resolving the claims.”

Attorneys and victims say class action settlement of UCLA doctor alleged sexual abuse aids cover-up.

April 20, 2021

Heaps was indicted by a grand jury in May on charges of sexually abusing seven female patients from 2011 to 2018.

Since his initial arrest in June 2019, hundreds of women have come forward to allege that Heaps subjected them to sexually inappropriate comments, touched them sexually during exams without wearing gloves and simulated intercourse with an ultrasound probe.


The UC system has acknowledged that staff members received complaints about Heaps dating back to the 1990s, and even when it took a detailed report in 2017 and initiated investigations, it took a year for him to leave. UCLA made no public statements about Heaps’ alleged conduct upon his retirement in 2018, when the school declined to renew his contract.

UCLA notified law enforcement of the allegations against Heaps on June 14, 2018. He was arrested in June 2019 and charged with multiple counts of sexual battery involving two patients.

Heaps’ medical license was suspended in 2019 after he pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges, which have since been expanded to include seven alleged victims.

In June 2017, a married mother of four experiencing severe pelvic pain went to see a UCLA gynecologist.

June 15, 2019

Manly said Tuesday that the UC system had little choice but to settle, given that its own investigation by a special committee revealed years of horrific oversight that allowed Heaps to remain despite repeated complaints.

That report found that UCLA’s handling of Heaps and four other doctors accused of misconduct was “at times either delayed or inadequate or both.” Heaps was affiliated with UCLA from 1983 to 2018 in a variety of roles, including as a faculty member at the medical school and a consulting physician at the student health center.

The report noted that his medical students complained on feedback forms that he was “very touchy,” “very inappropriate” and made “comments with innuendos.”


In 1999, a colleague in private practice, Michael Johnson, referred a patient to Heaps, and the woman informed Johnson about Heaps’ inappropriate exam technique and comments. The committee said UCLA was not aware of that complaint.

In 2014, Johnson was vice chair of UCLA’s obstetrics and gynecology department when an employee complained to him about Heaps’ inappropriate comments. Johnson did not report it. The same year, a patient complained about Heaps touching her during an exam, and Johnson was asked by the department chair to investigate the matter. Johnson found that “there must have been a misunderstanding,” according to the report.

Johnson never spoke to the victim but did consult with Heaps and even revised the wording on his conclusion to include more information from Heaps while saying he found no evidence of unprofessional or unethical conduct, the committee noted.

In 2017, a patient alleged to her regular gynecologist that Heaps unnecessarily and inappropriately touched her during an exam. Officials, including Dr. John Mazziotta, vice chancellor of UCLA Health, the school’s hospital and clinic network, knew of the complaint. But instead of formally removing Heaps during a Title IX investigation, the university asked him to take a vacation.

UCLA officials could have immediately removed Heaps from campus or restricted his practice while investigating the allegations, as allowed under University of California guidelines. They could have warned the campus community — which federal law requires if university officials decide that someone accused of sexual assault is a safety threat. They also could have encouraged other potential victims to step forward.

But UCLA Health administrators handling the complaint determined that it was not necessary to suspend Heaps in order to protect patients while the investigation proceeded, the report said.