USC, ex-school gynecologist face lawsuits over alleged inappropriate touching

LOS ANGELES — Daniella Mohazab is the seventh woman to file suit against Dr. George Tyndall and the University of Southern California. The graduate student and the other women allege Tyndall, a former gynecologist at USC’s student health center for nearly 30 years, used racist and inappropriately sexual language during consultations and conducted pelvic examinations with his fingers and didn’t wear gloves.

“He made me feel extremely uncomfortable and violated,” Mohazab told reporters Tuesday at her attorney’s office in Los Angeles, describing a 2016 consultation. “Dr. Tyndall told me to undress from the bottom down, and he stood there watching while I did so.”

Tyndall was fired in 2017 for inappropriate behavior, according to USC. University officials said the school reached a settlement with the doctor and did not report him either to law enforcement or state medical authorities at the time.

“Reportedly, USC was aware of Dr. Tyndall’s inappropriate conduct before I was even born,” Mohazab said. “I am still in shock that USC had heard about Dr. Tyndall’s inappropriate conduct and had allowed him to continue practicing.”

On Wednesday, the executive committee of USC’s board of trustees announced it will form a special panel and hire outside counsel to “conduct an independent investigation into the misconduct and reporting failures that occurred.”

Professors urge USC president to step down

A petition is circulating, started by a 2016 grad, calling for the USC president, C.L. Max Nikias, to resign. Two hundred professors have also signed a letter demanding Nikias stand down over the way abuse allegations against Tyndall were handled.

On Tuesday, Mohazab’s attorney, Gloria Allred, filed a civil suit against USC and Tyndall in Los Angeles County Superior Court. She’s seeking damages for, among other things, sexual battery, negligent hiring and retention, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. “This is just the beginning,” Allred said.

“Without a glove, he put two fingers inside me and felt around,” Mohazab said. “With a snide look on his face as he opened the packet of lube … he said this was part of an STD test.”

CNN has been unable to reach Tyndall for comment. But he has told Los Angeles Times, “I have never had any sexual urges” toward patients. He also described his examinations as thorough and appropriate. Tyndall told the newspaper his use of fingers had “a legitimate medical purpose” and said some of his comments to patients were misinterpreted.

The allegations about Tyndall’s behavior first emerged publicly in a May 16 report from the Los Angeles Times. The paper’s investigation, said Mohazab’s attorneys, was the moment many of Tyndall’s former patients realized what they went through was not a normal gynecological exam.

The physician does not face any criminal charges.

Tyndall asked for his job back earlier this year, according to Nikias, and at that point, the university reported him to state medical officials. After the recent Times investigation, the university contacted the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and was referred to the Los Angeles police. The police department told CNN there are no current, formal investigations.

Todd R. Dickey, USC’s senior vice president for administration, told CNN, “In light of newly received patient complaints indicating the extent of George Tyndall’s inappropriate conduct, the university has decided to remove Tyndall’s direct supervisor and another senior supervisor from the student health center.”

Still, some professors have said Nikias “has lost the moral authority to lead the university.” Their letter calling for his resignation reads, “In this case, as in prior cases, faced with an ongoing pattern of serious wrongdoing by a powerful university official, the university has kept wrongdoing quiet, settled financially with the wrongdoer in secret, and denied any responsibility on the part of the university.”

However, the board of trustees is standing by Nikias, who has written an open letter of apology, saying: “On behalf of the university, I sincerely apologize to any student who may have visited the student health center and did not receive the respectful care each individual deserves.”

A hotline has been set up for students who were affected. Nikias also has established the President’s Campus Culture Commission to enforce the university’s core values and ensure equality.

“We are focused on ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and providing support to those affected,” USC said in a statement.

Investigations in 2013 and again in 2016

USC officials issued what they called a “statement of facts” last week in which they detailed an internal investigation into Tyndall in 2013, launched after reports of racist comments by the gynecologist. That investigation ultimately concluded, “There was insufficient evidence to find violation of university policy.”

Tyndall was investigated again in 2016, and put on paid leave, after an employee at the medical center reported him to the campus rape crisis center, according to the Times. That investigation focused on inappropriate remarks as well as “the way he conducted pelvic examinations,” according to the statement posted to the USC online press room.

The statement said an outside consulting firm “concluded that this examination practice was outdated and not current standard of care.” Also, “a box of clinical photos of cervixes and surrounding internal tissue” from 1990-1991 was found during a search of Tyndall’s office, the statement said. USC said those photos had “no identifiable patient information.”

The USC document also said that in the center’s records, there were “eight complaints logged between 2000 and 2014 that were concerning.”

According to the statement, the health center’s former director “chose to manage those complaints independently.” The statement adds, “It is not clear today why the former health center director permitted Tyndall to remain in his position.”

That former director, Dr. Larry Neinstein, died in 2016, according to the USC website.

‘USC has let me down,’ grad student says

Tyndall was fired in June. According to USC’s statement, he threatened a lawsuit, and, “Rather than engage in protracted litigation, the university entered into a separation agreement.” The school said it did not report him to law enforcement or the Medical Board of California at the time.

In explaining those actions, a university statement says: “USC consulted with several legal experts and medical staff professionals to confirm it did not have a reporting obligation. Although not legally required, in retrospect the university believes out of an abundance of caution, it should have filed a consumer complaint with the Medical Board at the time Dr. Tyndall separated from the university.”

Legal experts say such statements could put USC in a precarious legal position. “It clearly acknowledges, as they now know, that they handled it poorly,” said Areva Martin, a CNN legal analyst. “I’m sure the lawyers will attempt to use it as a form of admission, an admission they were negligent in the handling of this matter.”

Mohazab said her experiences have left her distrustful of doctors. “I trusted USC,” she said. “But USC has let me down.”