LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The University of California will pay $243.6 million to resolve civil cases filed by more than 200 plaintiffs who alleged sexual misconduct by former UCLA gynecologist James Heaps, it was announced Tuesday.
Heaps served as a gynecologist/oncologist, affiliated with UCLA, for nearly 35 years. At various times, he saw patients at the UCLA/Ronald Reagan Medical Center and at his office located at 100 Medical Plaza. At one time, Heaps was reportedly the highest paid physician in the entire UC system and had treated about 6,000 patients, attorneys said.
More than 500 lawsuits have been filed against Heaps and UCLA, accusing the school of failing to protect his patients after becoming aware of the misconduct.
The lawsuits allege that UCLA actively and deliberately concealed Heaps' sexual abuse of patients. Despite the knowledge, UCLA continued to allow Heaps to have unfettered sexual access to female patients — many of whom were cancer patients — at UCLA, plaintiffs' attorneys allege.
"The conduct alleged to have been committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to the University's values," UCLA officials said in a statement Tuesday. "Our first and highest obligation will always be to the communities we serve, and we hope this settlement is one step toward providing healing and closure for the plaintiffs involved. We admire the courage of the plaintiffs in coming forward and appreciate plaintiffs' counsel's commitment to resolving the claims."
A federal judge in July 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 Heaps.
In the current settlement, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, 203 plaintiffs alleged they were assaulted by Heaps, who faces 21 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.
"This historic settlement allows these brave women to achieve their litigation goals of accountability and compensation, paving the path for their continued healing," plaintiffs' attorney John Manly said in a statement Tuesday. "Instead of unnecessarily inflicting further damage upon these survivors, the UC Regents made the decision to resolve these claims for reasonable value, and I would like to recognize those efforts. This should serve as a model for other universities who are facing the same sort of claims."
In its statement, UC said that UCLA Health, the Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center, and the UC system leadership have "taken substantial action to address the issues alleged in the litigation, including enhanced policies and procedures to prevent, detect and respond to allegations of sexual misconduct by a clinician."
"We remain dedicated to taking all necessary steps to ensure our patients' well being and to maintain the public's confidence and trust," according to UC.
Settlement of the federal case last year requires UCLA to ensure stronger oversight procedures for identification, prevention and reporting of sexual misconduct.
The federal lawsuits 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 March last year in a similar case, 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.