University of California Agrees to $73 Million Settlement Following Sex Abuse Allegations
The University of California reached a $73 million settlement in a class-action suit initiated by seven women against a former UCLA gynecologist, accusing him of sexual assault and misconduct.
The settlement terms were disclosed in a lawsuit on Monday against the 67-year-old physician — James Heaps — and the University of California system. Seven women filed the suit, alleging Heaps sexually assaulted them during medical examinations.
The civil litigation accuses Heaps of sexual misconduct and sexual assault during his tenure at the UCLA student health Center and UCLA Medical Center between 1983 and 2018. Heaps was charged with sexual battery in June 2019. According to the complaint, the arrest was an opportunity for UCLA to stop the doctor from continuing to exploit patients.
Heaps is charged with 20 felony counts for sex crimes allegedly committed between 2011 and 2018. The indictment includes sexual exploitation and sexual battery. If convicted, Heaps faces over 67 years in prison.
According to the class-action suit, over 6,600 of Heaps’ patients could be eligible for a portion of the $73 million damages settlement. Survivor patients may be eligible even if they haven’t made any direct accusations in the lawsuit.
The proposed agreement, filed on November 17 in federal court, includes multiple mandated reforms at the university. Heaps and the University of California system did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement. A U.S. District Court judge must now approve the final payment that was passed by the university’s Board of Regents.
The survivor’s attorney — Elizabeth A. Kramer — issued a statement supporting the settlement and decrying the pervasive culture of sexual abuse. She wrote, “The settlement if approved, will provide real and immediate compensation to thousands of women — no less than $2,000 and up to $250,000, or more in extraordinary circumstances. In a case involving widespread sexual misconduct, a class settlement compensates survivors who otherwise would not have come forward to seek relief from the courts, through a respectful and confidential process.”
Heaps was placed on leave after the university received complaints against him in 2017, which UCLA officials later acknowledged. However, they refrained from making any public statement related to the doctor’s conduct following his retirement in 2018.
The UC system, under the settlement terms, will make the full payment. UCLA Health issued a statement on Monday declaring, “The incidents described in the lawsuit reflect alleged conduct that is contrary to our values.” It concluded, “We thank the individuals who came forward and hope that this settlement — which is still subject to court approval — is one small step forward for the patients involved.”
Following the settlement announcement, one of the plaintiffs stated via phone interview, “The trauma that I have been carrying for far too long is one that thousands of other women around the country also share.” “I am relieved that we have reached a resolution that provides a way for other women to come forward in a confidential manner,” she added.
The individual payouts for survivors start at $2,500. More than 100 former patients of Heaps have also filed individual civil suits. Of those complaints, the University of California regents settled two.
The Board of Regents of the university assigned a committee to conduct a study on ways to address the sexual misconduct allegations leveled at medical professionals going forward.
The settlement comes with a provision, which permits the regents to withdraw from the agreement if over 250 patients decide to pursue legal action outside the contract.