A longtime doctor at USC’s student health clinic has sued the university, accusing administrators of falsely suggesting that he ignored or covered up misconduct complaints when he supervised the gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall.
In his lawsuit filed Thursday, Dr. William A. Leavitt, the former lead physician at USC’s Engemann Student Health Center, said public statements by administrators about his supposed role in the Tyndall scandal destroyed his reputation and amounted to defamation.
Leavitt also accused USC of wrongly targeting him for dismissal.
USC said in a statement that it believes “the lawsuit is without merit.”
Leavitt is the first employee to sue USC in connection to the scandal, in which Tyndall is accused of sexually harassing and abusing women during nearly three decades at the campus health center. More than 340 students and alumnae are suing the university, alleging the school failed to protect them from the gynecologist.
Tyndall, 71, has denied any wrongdoing, and his attorneys have maintained that his medical exams were always within the standard of care.
The history of complaints against Tyndall were brought to light by an L.A. Times investigation published in May.
Days after the report, Leavitt was called to a meeting with USC administrators, including the dean of the Keck School of Medicine. According to the lawsuit, Leavitt learned that USC was ousting him from his position in the clinic “because of his role as Dr. Tyndall’s supervisor.”
He was also told that USC “would aggressively pursue his dismissal” from his academic post, which entails a lengthy process, according to the lawsuit.
The Times reported on USC’s decision to force out Leavitt and a nursing supervisor from the clinic; at the time, Leavitt said in an interview that he was “basically the scapegoat.”
Administrator Todd Dickey, however, issued a statement to the newspaper that said the university removed “Tyndall’s direct supervisor” after receiving new complaints against the gynecologist.
Provost Michael Quick issued a public letter highlighting ways the university was preventing future misconduct. He noted that administrators “let go two people who had responsibility to oversee the quality of health care our students receive.”
Leavitt’s suit said such comments “insinuate that [he] was somehow concealing Dr. Tyndall’s alleged behavior and activities, which is untrue.”
He pointed to the 2016 investigation into Tyndall, which was partly triggered by the discovery of Polaroid images of patients in the gynecologist’s office, according to the suit. During the investigation, USC found several complaints in Tyndall’s personnel file, and Leavitt said the university “was well aware of the allegations” against the gynecologist.
Leavitt, who joined the university in 1991, said in the suit that he remains on leave but has not been formally fired as a professor. The lawsuit says that USC wants to reassign Leavitt to another department.