300 People Sue USC Over Alleged Sexual Abuse by Gynecologist Spanning 30 Years

We spoke with experts about the lawsuits against Dr. George Tyndell and the University of Southern California, including the allegations that the university failed to respond appropriately to claims of sexual abuse and harassment.

by Kimberly Lawson
Aug 2 2018, 2:50pm

Photo of USC student on left by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images and photo of Dr. George Tyndell on right via USC.

The number of former patients suing the University of Southern California for failing to protect them from being allegedly sexually abused by its only full-time student health clinic gynecologist has now topped 300, the LA Times reports. This week alone, 90 women and one transgender man filed lawsuits alleging Dr. George Tyndall had touched them inappropriately and made comments about their bodies that made them feel uncomfortable.

The complaints against Tyndall, who has denied any wrongdoing, go as far back as the 1990s.

According to court documents reviewed by the Times, one of the new plaintiffs is a woman who saw Tyndall in the late 90s; she alleged that he talked about how “small” her vagina was and that her boyfriend was “lucky.” Another woman, who came to the clinic for treatment for a cyst around her vagina, recalled him telling her, “You’re going to make some man very happy someday” as he used his fingers to probe her.

Other new plaintiffs included an Iranian American woman who saw Tyndall in 2015 and alleged that he told her “Persian women are child brides,” a transgender man who said the doctor caused him “extreme pain” during a gynecological exam and groped his breasts in 2005, and a woman who said she begged him to stop when her pelvic exam—during which he did not wear gloves—became too painful. “He was very dismissive,” she told the Times.

Previously reported allegations are just as troubling. Some former patients talked about having their genitals photographed; others said they were forced to submit to full-body nude exams. Tyndall also allegedly made comments about patients’ “perky breasts” and how “tight” their vaginas were. A nurse who’d worked with Tyndall recalled a particularly shocking exam during which he removed a girl’s IUD and asked her if he could keep it. Another woman told the Times that, noting her Middle Eastern heritage, the doctor allegedly offered her “a little baggie of blood I could pop on my wedding night so my husband would think I was a virgin.”

Despite the long string of allegations dating back three decades, Tyndall wasn’t suspended from the university until 2016. The Times reports that USC allowed him to resign with a payout last summer. According to a USC statement, an internal investigation found that “the manner in which Dr. Tyndall performed physical exams did not meet current practice standards and that he made inappropriate remarks to patients, in some cases during the examination process.”

The university also failed to initially report him to the Medical Board of California, the governing body that licenses health care professionals. Though "in hindsight," USC noted, it should have done so long before it finally filed a report in March—about two months before the Times first reported on the allegations against Tyndall. (Both the California Medical Board and the US Department of Education have announced investigations related to Tyndall.)

Michael Carome is a physician and director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting public interest in health, safety, and democracy. He tells Broadly it’s “extremely troubling” that hundreds of people have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by one practitioner. “It reflects how much harm a single doctor can do when they engage in misconduct or malpractice—that’s why it’s so important that doctors who engage in such conduct are quickly identified and that state medical boards that license them take appropriate action in order to protect the potential hundreds or thousands of future patients that could be harmed by such a doctor.”

Carome, for his part, also pointed out that research has shown that, too often, state medical boards do not adequately discipline doctors known to have committed sexual misconduct. He says states need to institute zero-tolerance policies for sexual abuse of patients by physicians that result in immediate suspension and termination of licensure.

"This is not something that can wait one more second, much less a few months.”

“Certainly, the [alleged] sexual misconduct by this doctor is the most troubling aspect,” he continues. “But perhaps nearly equally problematic is if indeed authorities at USC were aware of allegations of misconduct and didn’t report it ... What it suggests to me is that the institution was more interested in protecting its own reputation rather than protecting its students who were patients of this doctor.”

Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, agrees. In a statement shared with Broadly, she called the way things have played out at USC “a hallmark example of sickening trends we’re now seeing in cases of systemic harassment and abuse at our schools: the protection of a longtime abuser, the secret payout, the urgency to settle.”

“This was going on for 30 years,” Farrell said, “and now the USC administration is sending a message that the lives of these 300 students and faculty don’t matter enough to warrant immediate action. Hundreds of people were harmed and traumatized. This is not something that can wait one more second, much less a few months.”