As more lawsuits pile up against USC for its handling of a campus gynecologist accused of sexually abusing patients, the chair of the university’s board of trustees said he wanted to see the litigation resolved “as quickly as possible.”
Rick Caruso, the mall magnate tapped to lead the board in the wake of the scandal, said he hoped a settlement could occur without depositions and trials that would require former patients to detail publicly their experiences with Dr. George Tyndall.
“We are going to be fair, we are going to be dignified and we are going to have a process that does not put them through hardship in coming to a resolution,” said Caruso.
Settling the cases could cost USC and its insurers hundreds of millions of dollars. More than 225 students and alumnae are now suing USC for failing to protect them from Tyndall, including 51 women who filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday morning.
The plaintiffs who sued Monday are clients of a Houston law firm that used Facebook advertisements as well as other methods to reach former patients of Tyndall. They include graduates from across the U.S., as well as from Israel and Britain, and the time frame of their accusations ranges from the late 1980s to two years ago, the entire span of Tyndall’s three-decade career at the student health center.
One suit on behalf of 2002 graduate Amanda Davis asserts that Tyndall inserted “his ungloved, uncleaned fingers” inside her while remarking on her body. The suit contends that during the same appointment, Tyndall told Davis, who had recently given birth, that he was writing a book “on how women were able to get back into shape” and persuaded her to let him take full body nude photographs for what he said were research purposes.
There is no record of Tyndall publishing a book or research study. It is unclear what became of the pictures, a fact that Davis said in an interview left her “disgusted.”
“I grew up in a small town, and I was very trusting especially when it comes to authority figures, said Davis, now living in Arizona. “I didn’t have a reason to doubt him.”
Tyndall is also named as a defendant in the suits. The 71-year-old has denied any wrongdoing. In interviews with The Times, he specifically denied ever examining a woman without gloves. He has said through an attorney that when all the facts come out, he will be vindicated.
The physician, the sole full-time gynecologist on campus, was the subject of repeated complaints throughout his career, but was allowed to continue treating women until 2016 when a frustrated nurse reported him to the rape crisis center.
An internal investigation concluded his touching of patient genitals during pelvic exams and accompanying comments about their bodies amounted to sexual harassment. Administrators did not alert his patients and allowed him to resign with a financial settlement last year.
More than 400 people have contacted a hotline for former patients of Tyndall. University leaders have apologized to students and alumni, and President C.L. Max Nikias stepped down in May under pressure from faculty and students.
Caruso and USC’s lead defense attorney, Susan Estrich, also a university law professor, said lawyers for the school are working with its insurers as they respond to the lawsuits.
“We absolutely have to defend the university and be cognizant of the limits of the university and the university treasury, but there are many ways to resolve cases like this without putting women through a difficult and painful experience,” Estrich said.
Experts have said the settlement amount could be staggering. In May, Michigan State University agreed in May to a $500-million settlement with 332 women treated by Dr. Larry Nassar, the physician accused of sexually abusing Olympic gymnasts and other patients.
Andy Rubenstein, whose Texas firm D. Miller & Associates is representing the Tyndall patients who sued Monday, said the case against USC is strong because of what he called the “generational arc of institutional silence.”
“This could’ve been prevented if anyone at USC had stepped up sooner,” he said. “We have a client who is still a student at USC … and she wasn’t even born yet when [another client] Dr. Dana Loewy was being abused by Tyndall.”
Loewy, who received her Ph.D. from USC in 1995, alleged in her suit that Tyndall touched her inappropriately and made bizarre and insulting comments during an appointment. He insisted that she was a virgin and that he could feel her intact hymen despite the fact “she had been in several committed intimate relationships with boyfriends,” according to the suit.
When she told the gynecologist that her current romantic partner was a woman, he asked her, “Is it true that all lesbians hate men?”
Loewy, a textbook author in Fullerton, said she saw the university’s response to Tyndall as part of larger culture of covering up problems and said she joined the litigation “precisely because I care about USC.”
“Dr. Tyndall should be held accountable and USC should be held accountable as well,” Loewy said.