The University of Southern California has agreed to an $852 million settlement to resolve lawsuits from hundreds of women alleging that the university failed to respond adequately to complaints that a gynecologist sexually abused patients at its student health center, according to terms disclosed Thursday.
USC and attorneys for the plaintiffs made the terms public after a hearing in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The magnitude of the settlement — about one-seventh the size of the $5.9 billion endowment USC reported in 2020 — made it a landmark case for higher education.
Previously, the university had also agreed to pay more than $200 million in a 2018 federal class-action settlement involving women who were patients of former USC gynecologist George Tyndall. Counting Thursday’s developments, USC’s total bill for legal settlements now exceeds $1 billion.
In another major case involving sexual abuse complaints and higher education, Michigan State University agreed in 2018 to pay $500 million to settle lawsuits filed by 332 alleged victims of former sports physician Larry Nassar.
At the heart of the litigation against USC was the conduct of Tyndall and how the university responded to reports of abuse. Tyndall is awaiting trial on criminal charges in connection with accusations that for many years he subjected patients to unnecessary and inappropriate touching.
In all, attorneys said, 710 women who alleged they were victimized by Tyndall pursued civil lawsuits against USC in California courts. Those suits were addressed in the settlement announced Thursday afternoon.
USC called the agreement “fair and reasonable” and said it will end the litigation in state court. Its board of trustees ratified the settlement.
“I am deeply sorry for the pain experienced by these valued members of the USC community,” USC President Carol Folt said in a statement. “We appreciate the courage of all who came forward and hope this much needed resolution provides some relief to the women abused by George Tyndall.”
John Manly, an attorney for a firm that represented more than 230 of the plaintiffs, said: “This historic settlement came about through the bravery of hundreds of women and girls who had the courage to stand up and refuse to be silenced. We appreciate the diligent efforts of the survivors’ attorneys who worked with us to obtain this measure of justice and healing. The enormous size of this settlement speaks to the immense harm done to our clients and the culpability of USC.”
Audry Nafziger, who alleged that Tyndall sexually assaulted her when she was a law student at USC, said in a statement: “It is my sincere hope that this settlement is just the first step in serving the full measure of justice on George Tyndall and his enablers at USC.”
Tyndall, now 74, was arrested in June 2019 on 29 felony counts connected to accusations of sexual assault and abuse. Six additional counts were announced last summer. Tyndall has pleaded not guilty. He was a doctor at the university for more than 30 years until the university placed him on leave in 2016. He later left USC after reaching a separation agreement.
Leonard Levine, an attorney for Tyndall, said Thursday that he “continues to deny all criminal charges.” Levine said he expects a trial to start later this year. In response to Folt’s statement about the settlement, Levine said Tyndall “continues to deny any and all allegations and looks forward to his day in court.”
Fred Ryan, publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post, is a member of the USC Board of Trustees.
USC said it will pay for the settlement over the next two years through “a combination of litigation reserves, insurance, deferred capital spending, the potential sale of nonessential assets and careful management of expenses.”
The university said that no philanthropic gifts, endowment funds or tuition revenue would be redirected from their “intended purposes” as a result of the settlement.
USC, a private research university in Los Angeles with more than 48,000 students, has been shaken in recent years by the Tyndall scandal and other troubles. In 2018, USC President Max Nikias stepped down under pressure. Folt was named his replacement in 2019.
That year, the Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on the Tyndall scandal.
Also in 2019, USC’s athletic department and admissions practices came under intense scrutiny when federal investigators uncovered an illicit scheme to help the children of wealthy parents obtain phony SAT scores and use fake athletic credentials in their applications. That gave those applicants an unfair edge in the competition to get into USC and other schools.
On the Tyndall scandal, USC reiterated Thursday that it has overhauled its student health services.
“We have implemented sweeping institutional reforms to prevent anything like this from happening again,” the university said in a statement. “We added robust new protections, protocols and oversights and have enhanced safety and wellness. We have established greater accountability with clear checks and balances, we have created new offices and added many more staff with professional expertise.”