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As more women file lawsuits against USC, gynecologist defends himself in letter to The Times

As more women file lawsuits against USC, gynecologist defends himself in letter to The Times
More former USC students have filed lawsuits alleging they were abused by Dr. George Tyndall, who worked as the university's only full-time gynecologist at the student health center for nearly three decades. Tyndall, 71, denies wrongdoing. (USC; Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Fourteen more women have sued USC alleging that a campus gynecologist sexually abused them during medical exams and that the university failed to take action when patients and clinic staff complained about his behavior.

The new filings brought the total number of women suing the university by Friday afternoon to 21.

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About 385 women have called a university hotline since a Times investigation last week detailed how USC allowed Dr. George Tyndall to continue practicing at a student health clinic on campus despite a record of complaints that spanned more than two decades.

One woman who sued alleged Tyndall put his face within two inches of her vagina while fondling her and saying repeatedly, “It looks beautiful.” Another alleged Tyndall thrust his entire ungloved hand back and forth inside of her, causing her “naked body to shake uncontrollably.” Several accused Tyndall of performing exams without using gloves.

The scandal over how USC handled years of complaints against the physician has roiled the campus and led the university’s Board of Trustees to announce Friday that the school’s president, C.L. Max Nikias, would be replaced.

Tyndall, who resigned last year, has denied wrongdoing. In a letter to The Times dated May 17 but received Thursday, the physician said he had heard of only one patient complaint before March 2016 — an allegation that he did not wear gloves during a pelvic exam.

He wrote that the clinic’s then-executive director, Dr. Larry Neinstein, conducted a poll of medical assistants or nurses who accompanied him as chaperones when he saw patients and that “they confirmed that an exam without a glove never happened.”

In addition, Tyndall said it was well-known that he always carried a small hand towel in one of the pockets of his Filipino barong — an embroidered shirt — to “use to avoid touching door knobs, elevator buttons, faucet handles, etc.” He wrote that he did so to avoid catching a cold, which he said would prevent him from counseling USC patients.

“Patients sometimes fabricate stories,” he wrote, adding that male and female clinicians who conduct pelvic exams should always have a chaperone present.

He included with his letter more than a dozen positive comments from patients who sent Neinstein and other clinic supervisors emails from 2013 to 2015. “Overall Dr. Tyndall is a great doctor and a very friendly man who shows great care for his patients,” one read.

USC’s handling of Tyndall has sparked more than a week of turmoil at the university, culminating in the news late Friday that Nikias would step down.

Earlier in the week, the Academic Senate, which represents USC faculty, called for Nikias to resign after a fiery town hall in which professors demanded an immediate vote of no confidence. Some also expressed outrage at the university’s Board of Trustees for an earlier public message in which the board’s chairman, John Mork, said its executive committee “strongly supported” Nikias despite a series of scandals over the last year.

An open letter also calling for Nikias to resign circulated among faculty and received nearly 500 signatures by Friday. A similar petition by students and alumni garnered more than 4,000.

USC has said that complaints about Tyndall dating to the early 2000s reached Neinstein, who died in 2016, but that he “handled patient complaints independently.” The university said it was unclear why Tyndall was allowed to remain in his position.

It was only after a frustrated nurse reported Tyndall to the campus rape crisis center in 2016 that the gynecologist was removed.

USC leaders have acknowledged that the system for reporting and disciplining Tyndall had broken down, but they denied having known about the complaints before last year, according to a letter from Provost Michael Quick.

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The university, in a secret deal last summer, allowed Tyndall to resign quietly with a financial payout. USC did not report him to the Medical Board of California, which investigates misconduct by physicians and has the power to terminate their licenses, until last March. The university has acknowledged that “in hindsight” Tyndall should have been reported much sooner.

Last week, USC ousted two top administrators at the clinic. The university is also sending cases to the Los Angeles Police Department for criminal review. The state medical board has confirmed it is now investigating Tyndall.

Many of the women who have sued allege similar conduct by Tyndall, including his frequently commenting on the tightness of patients’ vaginal muscles and making inappropriate remarks about their sex lives.

According to one lawsuit, a student was forced to strip naked in his office rather than the examination room. He then “proceeded to graze his ungloved fingers” along her body under the pretense of “checking for moles,” the lawsuit said. Tyndall also spread her buttocks so he could “leer at her anus,” according to the suit.

He then inserted his ungloved fingers into her vagina, causing the student to cry out in pain, the suit said. He refused to remove his fingers, according to the lawsuit, even as she was “reduced to tears.”

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