UC system to give record payout to patients of doctor accused of sexual abuse

Photo of UCLA
Beyond My Ken/Creative Commons
The UC system's total settlements in this case amount to the largest payout of any public university regarding sexual misconduct by a campus doctor. (Photo by Beyond My Ken under CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Content warning: sexual abuse.

The University of California has announced that it will pay nearly $375 million to hundreds of women who accused former UCLA gynecologist James Heaps of sexually abusing them.

Combined with previous settlements, the total payout will be the largest made by a public university as cases of sexual misconduct involving campus doctors have sparked throughout the country, according to the Associated Press.

Attorneys Jennifer McGrath and Darren Kavinoky represent 312 women who alleged abuse from Heaps.

“We’re proud to be able to get the women one step closer to justice,” McGrath said. “It’s obviously very difficult to recover from these kinds of traumas and the breach of trust when you have a physician you’ve placed a lot of trust in and you’re abused.”

Heaps began his career in 1983 as a consulting physician for UCLA Student Health, according to a statement from UCLA Health’s website. He was later employed by the campus as an obstetrician-gynecologist in 2014.

UCLA commenced an investigation in early 2018 into a sex abuse complaint made against Heaps, according to the Associated Press. Heaps retired in June 2018.

“It was only a full year later (in 2019) when he was arrested and it became a public relations crisis that (UCLA) finally took down his webpage and sent a letter expressing dismay,” Kavinoky said. “They had the same knowledge of his behavior a full year prior, but because of the financial motive, they continued to protect him.”

McGrath added that they were able to obtain a report in which UCLA acknowledged that Heaps was overutilizing certain procedures and diagnostic tests for financial gain.

According to McGrath, Heaps used ultrasounds in particular in a sexually abusive manner while weaponizing the fear of cancer in his female patients to pressure them to visit him more frequently.

“A lot of the women we worked with suffered in silence for a long time, they didn’t even fully understand what had happened to them and suffered with the trauma of it,” McGrath said. “It’s important to get this public awareness because these institutions, the entire UC system, need to really change and make sure that there are protocols in place.”

UCLA Health said in an email that they will take “all necessary steps” to maintain public confidence and trust in the wake of the allegations against Heaps.

They stated that they are currently working on adopting recommendations from a report produced by a special committee convened in 2019 that focused on allegations of sexual misconduct against medical professionals.

“We renew our commitment to never tolerate sexual violence or harassment in any form, and to promptly address and take appropriate actions to ensure our patients are safe, protected and respected,” UCLA Health said in the email. “Our first and highest obligation will always be to the communities we serve.”

Contact Zachary Khouri at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @zachakhouri.