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$73 million settlement reached in University of California sex abuse lawsuit

$73 million settlement reached in University of California sex abuse lawsuit
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The University of California system submitted a $73 million settlement proposal on Monday for a lawsuit in which seven women accused a former gynecologist of sexual abuse. 

The proposed settlement could allow more than 6,600 patients of James Heaps to receive a portion, even if the patients have not accused the former UCLA gynecologist of sexual misconduct, The Associated Press reported. A federal judge needs to agree with the submitted deal. 

Heaps’s former patients have said he participated in misconduct between 1983 and 2018 at the time he worked at the UCLA student health center and UCLA Medical Center. 

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The 63-year-old doctor, whose medical license has been suspended amid the lawsuit, denies the allegations that he made sexually inappropriate comments, touched women sexually during exams without wearing gloves and simulated intercourse with an ultrasound probe. 

The settlement, if approved, requires reforms at UCLA, including training on boundaries, advertising of patient reporting options, compliance monitoring and probes into possible misconduct allegations.

“The incidents described in the lawsuit reflect alleged conduct that is contrary to our values,” UCLA Health said Monday in a statement obtained by The Hill. “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.”

The university noted its officials and health leadership "have already taken many steps to address the issues discussed in the report."

The deal does not mandate Heaps to admit wrongdoing or provide any amount of the $73 million. Patients are assured a minimum of $2,500, no matter if they presented allegations or not. 

The settlement is separate from any criminal charges against Heaps, which he has pleaded not guilty to, and from the more than 100 lawsuits filed by individual former patients. The university has settled at least two, the AP noted. 

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UCLA began looking into allegations against Heaps in December 2017 and did not renew his contract in 2018, prompting his retirement. After Heaps’s arrest, more than 200 women contacted the university with allegations against the doctor, while some of his patients defended him.

The university said it has determined about 5,000 previous patients of Heaps and predict another 1,600 women were patients, but the records are no longer available. 

“In our view, these women were still put in harm’s way and deserve compensation on those grounds,” Elizabeth Kramer, one of the attorneys representing the victims, said, according to the AP. “We don’t have a way of knowing every single woman who would allege sexual misconduct by Dr. Heaps.”

Heaps's lawyer Leonard Levine told The Hill in a statement that the settlement “is far too premature."

"Dr. Heaps is innocent of all criminal charges," he said. "When the allegations against him are finally tested in a court of law, he is confident he will be totally exonerated."

California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomMayor of Denver apologizes for holiday travel after advising residents to stay put California, Texas shatter single-day nationwide record for new coronavirus cases Denver mayor flies to Mississippi for Thanksgiving after advising against travel MORE (D) backed a measure that gave a one-year window in 2021 for all of Heaps’s alleged victims to file legal claims against the former doctor and university, even if the statute of limitations would have not allowed for such suits.