LOS ANGELES (CNS) — A federal judge Monday gave final approval to the $73 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by more than 5,500 women who allege they were sexually abused and assaulted as patients of disgraced ex-UCLA campus gynecologist/oncologist James Heaps.
The settlement approved by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner also requires UCLA to ensure stronger oversight procedures for identification, prevention and reporting of sexual misconduct.
Originally filed in 2019 in Los Angeles federal court, the class-action lawsuit accuses Heaps of assault, abuse and harassment and accuses UCLA of failing to protect his patients after becoming aware of the misconduct.
The entirety of the $73 million would go toward compensating more than 5,500 women who received treatment from Heaps at either the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center from 1986-2018, the school's student health center from 1983-2010 or Heaps' university medical office from 2014-18, plaintiffs' attorneys said.
UCLA Health said in a statement that while it could not comment on the specifics of the settlement, "We can say unequivocally that sexual misconduct or abuse is inexcusable. We remain committed to providing quality care that respects the dignity of every patient."
The settlement provides an automatic $2,500 payment for all class members, and those who wish to come forward can seek up to $250,000, according to Elizabeth A. Kramer, a lawyer for the women who filed the class-action suit in October last year against both Heaps and the Regents of the University of California.
The behavior alleged in the lawsuit includes sexual abuse during examinations, recommending unnecessary procedures and overly frequent examinations to create additional opportunities for abuse, making inappropriate and sexually suggestive comments and removing patients' clothing or gowns without consent.
Heaps, 64, faces 20 counts of sexual abuse offenses in state court in a criminal case in which he's accused of sexually assaulting seven women. He faces more than 67 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
The lawsuit alleged that while patients complained about Heaps years earlier, it was not until late 2017 that allegations of sexual misconduct by the gynecologist were reported to UCLA's Title IX office and a formal investigation was opened.
Heaps was allowed to continue seeing patients — both during the investigation and after UCLA informed Heaps that his contract would not be renewed when it expired on June 30, 2018.
UCLA ended Heaps' employment and notified law enforcement of the allegations against him on June 14, 2018.
In June 2019, Heaps was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual battery. Following his arrest, many more women came forward to report alleged sexual misconduct. In August 2020, Heaps was charged with additional felonies.
In addition to compensation, the university has undertaken a series of reforms, including implementing a new investigation model for sexual harassment/sexual assault and training for UCLA medical facilities personnel on provider-patient boundaries and on conducting sensitive examinations.
In March, USC agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to former patients of ex-campus gynecologist George Tyndall, the largest sex abuse payout in higher education history. Tyndall — the only full-time gynecologist at the student health clinic from 1989 until 2016 — has pleaded not guilty to dozens of sexual assault charges and is awaiting trial.