UCLA has paid more than $3.5 million in settlements over former gynecologist
A patient who alleged she was sexually assaulted by a UCLA Health gynecologist was awarded $2.25 million in a settlement finalized last month with the University of California regents, according to university records released Monday.
The patient’s accusation stemmed from a February 2018 appointment with Dr. James M. Heaps. Heaps was charged in early June with sexual battery and exploitation in connection with his treatment of two patients — including the woman whose claim was settled last month.
Heaps has pleaded not guilty, and his attorney has said he will continue to fight the charges.
UCLA released a redacted copy of the settlement in response to a public records request filed by The Times. The university released additional documents, including a copy of a settlement in March of almost $1.3 million with a UCLA nurse practitioner who alleged sexual harassment by Heaps and claimed he retaliated against her for participating in the UCLA investigations of him.
The criminal investigation of Heaps was prompted by a complaint made by a patient in December 2017, according to court records. UCLA did not restrict Heaps while investigating the woman’s complaint, even though university officials discovered two other complaints about Heaps during the investigation.
It was while the university’s inquiry was ongoing that the patient in last month’s settlement was treated by him. Her name was redacted from the records released by UCLA.
Heaps’ attorney, Tracy Green, previously told The Times the patient was a 48-year-old mother of three who accused the doctor of improperly putting his fingers in her vagina. Green said her client was a “respected, talented and thorough gynecological oncologist” whose treatment was always medically necessary and done with respect for patients.
On Monday, Green said Heaps was adamant that UCLA not settle with the patient because he didn’t do anything wrong and felt settling would imply otherwise. He refused to contribute any money to the settlement, she said.
“[UCLA] genuinely said, ‘Oh no, this will keep things confidential – we don’t want it to blow up like what happened to USC,’” Green said, referencing Dr. George Tyndall, a USC campus gynecologist accused of sexually abusing hundreds of students during nearly three decades at a campus clinic.
Green said UCLA’s investigation into Heaps was “sloppy and careless” in that the university didn’t pull medical charts or conduct in-depth interviews with staff and patients. The staff members who were interviewed maintained they never witnessed Heaps do anything sexual with a patient, Green said.
“He knows he didn’t do anything for sexual gratification,” Green said.
Green said the claim that Heaps retaliated against the nurse practitioner stemmed from his sending her a text message asking if she was OK after realizing she was no longer working at UCLA Health. University officials told him this violated the university’s no-contact policy during a Title IX investigation. When interviewed by UCLA, the nurse practitioner said she never witnessed any sexual misconduct between Heaps and his patients, Green said.
The nurse practitioner could not be reached for comment.
Heaps retired in June 2018. The university didn’t make any public reference to patient allegations against him until last month when UCLA sent an email to its campus community following Heaps’ arrest.
UCLA officials have apologized for their handling of the case and said they could have done a better job communicating with patients.
Heaps was a high-profile, highly paid gynecologist who worked part-time at the UCLA student health center from about 1983 to 2010. He was hired by UCLA Health in 2014 and held medical staff privileges at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center from 1988 to 2018.
More than 50 women have stepped forward alleging that Heaps sexually abused them while he was practicing at UCLA, according to attorneys representing former patients.
As part of the June settlement, the patient will meet separately with UCLA Health President Johnese Spisso and the regent who chairs the health services committee. In those meetings, the patient will share what happened to her and make recommendations for how the university should handle patient complaints in the future.
“UCLA made the decision to pay this settlement,” the woman’s attorneys, Darren Kavinoky and Jennifer McGrath, said in a statement. “That decision speaks volumes. We doubt it will be the last.”
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