Secret USC records reveal dire warnings about gynecologist accused of abusing students
Confidential records released this week show decades of warnings to the University of Southern California about Dr. George Tyndall, the longtime campus gynecologist accused of sexually abusing hundreds of students.
The documents span the entirety of Tyndall’s career at USC, including a handwritten complaint in 1990 about a “rude” exam and a lengthy expert analysis in 2016 that posited the gynecologist had “underlying psychopathy.”
Among the revelations is that USC was told in that expert report that Tyndall appeared to be targeting international students from Asian countries. This has been a particularly sensitive issue for USC, which has aggressively courted Chinese students and donors.
As described in the report from Colorado-based medical consulting firm MDReview, “If the patients were young and Asian, they were more likely to have a pelvic exam completed” by Tyndall.
The records, totaling more than 600 pages, are evidence in a federal class-action suit by former patients against Tyndall and USC. U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the documents made public after The Times sought a court order for access.
Overruling objections from Tyndall and the university, Wilson said in his decision that the public had an interest in “all pertinent information” about the gynecologist and USC’s handling of him.
“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.
After the judge’s ruling, USC opted not to appeal and posted the documents on a university website.
The collection of memos, correspondence and student complaints offers a new level of detail to a scandal that has rocked USC after The Times brought it to light 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 750 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 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.
Tyndall started at the clinic straight out of his residency in 1989. By the next year, the complaints had started, the records show. In a handwritten note that September, a clinic staffer related a complaint received by phone from a graduate student who saw Tyndall for the removal of a polyp.
The caller, a former nurse who had previously worked at a women’s health clinic, said Tyndall’s care “was not good” and “if this was her first visit as an 18 y.o., she would never return to see a gynecologist.”
In the years that followed, the clinic’s nurses and medical assistants developed suspicions about the gynecologist’s methods and motives, the records show. Tyndall acknowledged in a 1996 memo to his boss that the nursing staff thought he had prurient reasons for photographing patient genitals and delving in their sexual histories.
“But why is your practice so different from that of the other gynecologists,” Tyndall quoted a nursing director as asking.
Told that some patients were refusing further appointments with him, Tyndall dismissed the reports as “innuendo” based on “nearly unimaginable prudery” by colleagues.
After some proposed the creation of a women’s clinic staffed by mainly female doctors, Tyndall told his boss that barring him from gynecological patients would be “a breach of contract” and suggested he might sue the university. The all-female clinic was not pursued.
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.”
Dr. Larry Neinstein, the clinic’s executive director, confronted the gynecologist that year about three written complaints. In a letter, Tyndall 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 Shon 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, concerns about Tyndall reached an administrator outside the student health center. Elizabeth Davenport, then assistant dean of student affairs, told Neinstein that she had met with a student who appeared deeply troubled by an encounter with the gynecologist.
“I’ve been encouraging her to tell you what happened with Dr. Tyndall, and I’m really pleased that she’s summoned up the courage to do so,” Davenport wrote in an April 2000 email.
The patient sent a letter to Tyndall objecting to a “degrading and humiliating” anecdote he had shared during a visit to the clinic.
“The story you told me about the rock guitarist from Megadeth and his experience having sexual relations on the street in Chicago with the woman who had to first remove her tampon was disgusting and inappropriate,” she wrote.
Tyndall apologized in writing, according to the documents.
Throughout the early 2000s, there were numerous complaints that Tyndall was blocking the nursing staff from observing his pelvic exams. Several “chaperones,” medical assistants and nurses required to be present for gynecological visits, told their bosses that Tyndall was placing a curtain or screen between them and the lower bodies of patients.
One 2003 complaint noted that “once again GT is not allowing Mas [medical assistants] to be behind curtain when chaperoning MD during pelvic exams.” A year later, a nursing director brought up the curtain issue again to a supervising physician, writing, “I don’t believe this problem has been resolved.”
Supervisors ultimately moved the curtain, telling Tyndall it was for “ergonomic” reasons, according to the documents.
The records are rife with complaints about Tyndall’s job performance, separate from sexual misconduct.
He failed to treat a student who tested positive for chlamydia in 2002, and four years later, missed a lice diagnosis, according to the records.
“What ‘professional’ at the USC Health Center can’t recognize something as common as lice?” the parents of the student who had lice wrote to administrators.
There were also complaints about unsanitary habits — trash and rotten food in his office — and the unexplained hours he spent in his office at night and on weekends.
Seeing three unopened televisions stacked in Tyndall’s office bathroom, Dr. William Leavitt told a colleague, “My guess is that George is running a durable goods business on the side.”
When administrators announced that the clinic would be locked even to staff from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., Tyndall dashed off furious protests.
In 2004, Neinstein told USC’s then vice president for student affairs, Michael Jackson, that he was increasingly worried about Tyndall, relating that both he and Leavitt feared for their safety.
“I am concerned that we have an employee who is very disgruntled,” Neinstein said.
Neinstein consulted 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 let her 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.
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.
In their 17-page report, the experts concluded that Tyndall’s pelvic exams were inappropriate and not within medical standards. 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 his medical procedures differed for patients perceived as less favorable: “non-Asian, obese, or older” patients were less likely to receive a pelvic exam, the experts found.
In the wake of the Times’ initial reports last year, the Chinese Consulate in L.A. expressed “serious concerns” about Tyndall. USC said at the time it had no evidence he was focused on Asian students.
The firm’s report said Tyndall had potential mental health problems and listed possible signs: 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 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 from two decades ago.
After the expert report was completed, USC did not notify the state Medical Board of its findings and reached a secret deal with Tyndall that allowed him to resign with a settlement.
The university has agreed to pay $215 million to settle the federal class-action suit, and is encouraging some 15,000 patients to participate.
“These records should help confirm that the proposed settlement remains the best option for bringing a fair and respectful resolution,” interim President Wanda Austin said.
Some 600 patients are expected to pursue individual claims in state court. Their lawyers have said those cases will bring more transparency and likely higher awards than the $2,500 to $250,000 provided in the proposed class-action settlement.
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