USC was told gynecologist could be preying on Asian women, secret records show
After decades of complaints about a campus gynecologist, USC administrators hired a team of medical experts to evaluate him.
The experts came back with a disturbing report saying there was evidence Dr. George Tyndall was preying on vulnerable Asian students and had signs of “psychopathy.”
Still, the university did not fire Tyndall or notify the state medical board.
Instead, lawyers for USC arranged a secret deal with the doctor that allowed him to leave his post with a financial payout and a pristine professional record.
The confidential report was among a cache of internal university records made public Thursday after The Times sought a court order for access to the documents. The records are evidence in a federal class-action suit by former patients against Tyndall and USC and had been filed this year under seal.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson granted the newspaper’s request, writing in a ruling Tuesday that the public had an interest in “all pertinent information” about Tyndall and the university’s response.
“Providing the public with all available nonprivileged information furthers the public narrative about inappropriate sexual behavior and ensures for longer-lasting changes beyond the case at hand,” Wilson wrote.
The university had opposed the request to unseal the records, but opted not to appeal Wilson’s decision.
USC has apologized for university employees’ handling of Tyndall and the complaints against him, first exposed by The Times last year. The revelations led to the ouster of President C.L. Max Nikias, one of the largest sex crimes investigations in Los Angeles police history, more than 650 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by Tyndall and pledges by USC’s board to fix a broken school culture.
Nearly all of the university’s top administrators have left or will soon depart, and a new president, Carol L. Folt, takes over July 1.
Tyndall is the subject of a grand jury investigation but has not been charged with a crime. He and his attorneys have repeatedly denied wrongdoing and said he acted within the standards of gynecological care.
The materials released Thursday include documents turned over to lawyers for women suing the university as well as a second group of records provided to the judge as he decides whether to approve a proposed $215-million settlement with some former patients of Tyndall.
The more than 600 pages made public offer a new level of detail to the known accounts of Tyndall’s former patients and colleagues. A collection of memos, correspondence and handwritten complaints, the records date to Tyndall’s early years in the clinic in the 1990s. They reveal the specific information administrators possessed about allegations against him and, in many cases, what they did or didn’t do with that knowledge.
Among the revelations is that USC was told in 2016 that Tyndall appeared to be targeting international students from Asian countries. Their language skills and lack of familiarity with American gynecology made them ripe for victimization and unlikely to complain, administrators were told in a report by outside medical experts.
“If the patients were young and Asian, they were more likely to have a pelvic exam completed,” the report from Colorado-based consulting firm MDReview found.
The Chinese Consulate in L.A. expressed “serious concerns” about Tyndall in the wake of The Times’ initial reports. USC said at the time it had no evidence he was focused on Asian students.
In a letter to the judge, an attorney for USC noted that by the time administrators received that report, Tyndall had been suspended and was not permitted to return to the clinic.
“Once placed on leave, Dr. Tyndall never treated another USC patient,” lawyer Shon Morgan wrote.
Tyndall started at the clinic straight out of his residency in 1989. The records show a range of complaints. A student unhappy with Tyndall’s medical care in 1997 filled out a comment card saying she would never again visit the physician, calling him “the worst doctor I have ever seen in my life.” The writer claimed to know of 20 others who felt similarly and wrote, “If you don’t want a huge future lawsuit on your hands, I highly suggest the termination of this man.”
Tyndall’s supervisor at the time, Dr. Larry Neinstein, confronted the gynecologist that year about three written complaints. In a letter summarizing the meeting, Tyndall defended his care as personalized and engaging and thanked his boss for “bringing this minor problem of practice style to my attention.”
Former colleagues and patients have said publicly that they made written and oral reports about lewd comments and inappropriate conduct by Tyndall in the 1990s. But Morgan, the USC lawyer, wrote in his letter to the judge that based on the university’s review of the internal records, there were no documented complaints of a sexual nature before 2000.
That year, a patient notified the university after Tyndall shared a “degrading and humiliating” anecdote about the sexual escapades of a rock guitarist in Chicago.
“After such a repulsive display of un-professionalism, I have lost all trust in you as my physician,” the patient wrote.
The records show clinic supervisors in the early 2000s regularly fielded complaints from “chaperones,” medical assistants and nurses who were present for gynecological visits. The staffers told their bosses that Tyndall was blocking their view of pelvic exams by placing a curtain or screen between them and the lower bodies of patients.
One complaint logged in 2003 noted that “once again GT is not allowing Mas [medical assistants] to be behind curtain when chaperoning MD during pelvic exams.” The log said Tyndall had been warned previously.
The next year, a student lodged a report with a clinic administrator that detailed how during her appointment, Tyndall took calls from patients on speakerphone. The student wrote that she heard other patients’ first and last names along with discussions about a herpes diagnosis. The student told her parents, who urged her to tell USC.
“I have also told all of my female friends, many of whom have had him before, and we all swear we’ll never go to him again for fear of an obvious violation of our privacy,” the student wrote in the email.
In 2009, a student complained that Tyndall had complimented her pubic hair, and the next year, an alumna contacted the clinic and alleged that the gynecologist had conducted a pelvic exam six years earlier without wearing a glove, the records show.
Neinstein, the clinic’s executive director, asked for help in dealing with Tyndall from the university’s Office of Equity and Diversity in 2013, according to a summary of the report. He told the office, which handles harassment and discrimination claims, that there were “several difficulties” with Tyndall over the years and that recently staffers and a student had claimed Tyndall made “inappropriate comments or otherwise made them or others feel uncomfortable.”
Neinstein died in 2016.
The investigator assigned to the case did not interview Tyndall but questioned seven clinic colleagues and a student. Some staffers said students found the doctor “creepy,” and one administrator said a patient recently complained that Tyndall “would not leave her appointment … and that when she told him she needed to leave for another appointment, he asked her, ‘What’s more important than your health?’”
Still, the investigator decided not to pursue the matter.
“Interviews with these individuals yielded mixed opinions of Dr. Tyndall but none yielded actionable evidence of any policy violations,” investigator Karen Nutter wrote in a three-page memo. She wrote that there was “insufficient evidence of any University policy violation to justify continuing an investigation.”
Less than three years later, a nursing supervisor frustrated by what she saw as administrators’ inaction sought advice from a rape crisis counselor. That led USC to put Tyndall on immediate leave in 2016, launch an investigation and hire MDReview, the outside medical consulting firm. The chief executive and an expert gynecologist inspected medical charts, reviewed university files and conducted interviews with clinic staffers, administrators and Tyndall.
In their 17-page report, the experts concluded that Tyndall’s pelvic exams were inappropriate and not within medical standards, and that he had “unusual and potentially dangerous opinions about breast exams.”
They also expressed concern about photographs Tyndall had taken of patients’ genitals, noting that he had used a commercial processing lab in upstate New York to develop some images and offered “dubious” explanations for retaining the pictures.
Not only did Tyndall show a preference for Asian students, but he changed his medical practice for patients perceived as less favorable: “non-Asian, obese, or older” patients were less likely to receive a pelvic exam, the report states.
The report concluded that many patients were particularly vulnerable because of their age and language skills, and may not recognize harassment or lodge a complaint.
“It would be easy for a healthcare provider to take advantage of this,” the report said.
The firm’s report said Tyndall had potential mental health problems, including “underlying psychopathy,” and listed possible signs: his hoarding, poor hygiene and his request to personally keep a patient’s used intrauterine device. The experts said such issues were outside the scope of the report but “impossible to ignore.”
In interviews with the external experts, Tyndall maintained that he practiced “evidence-based medicine” to explain his view that Kegel exercises were related to orgasms. When pressed for the source of this view, “he referred to a Reader’s Digest article he read more than 20 years ago.”
Despite their many troubling findings, the medical experts said USC could create a “safe pathway” for Tyndall’s return to the clinic, but with significant restrictions.
To limit his risk to students, they proposed having a board-certified gynecologist monitor him at all times; having Tyndall complete a medical and psychological evaluation; and having outside organizations test Tyndall’s medical techniques, decision-making and knowledge.
The disclosure comes as former patients are weighing whether to join the class-action settlement, which could provide $2,500 to $250,000 to those who saw Tyndall for care. Attorneys representing more than 600 women in state court have criticized the settlement as paltry and prematurely reached, but lawyers representing patients in the federal class-action case have argued the settlement offers fair compensation without the risks of trial.
USC’s interim president, Wanda Austin, said late Thursday in a statement that the release of the documents would assist former patients in assessing their legal options. The university also published a website that included all of the materials filed in court.
“These records should help confirm that the proposed settlement remains the best option for bringing a fair and respectful resolution to this matter for as many of Dr. Tyndall’s former patients as possible,” Austin said. “Making changes to strengthen our university, rebuilding trust, and healing our community remain our top priorities.”
Here is USC’s web page with the documents.
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