A proposed $215 million class action settlement that would have resolved sexual abuse accusations against an on-campus gynecologist and the University of Southern California was rejected by a federal judge April 18.
Dr. George Tyndall allegedly abused hundreds of women while working at USC, which was accused of covering up and enabling the misconduct.
The case has similarities to that of Dr. Larry Nassar’s long history of abuse at Michigan State University. Nassar’s accusers said MSU knew about the abuse, and the school agreed in May 2018 to pay $500 million to settle claims brought by more than 330 claimants.
Here, the proposed USC settlement didn’t explain how the three-tiered claim system would work in practice, Judge Stephen Wilson said in a minute order for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He was also concerned that a single claims administrator could result in arbitrary and inequitable resolutions of claim submissions, and that the same claims administrator would hear appeals from their own rulings.
Wilson suggested a three-judge panel in place of a single administrator.
The proposal was similarly light on details about equitable relief USC would face, Wilson said. The parties nominated a committee to iron out those details, but “without having the final agreements on all facets of relief to be imposed,” he said.
“This settlement gives every single woman who saw Tyndall a choice in how they want to participate and hold USC accountable, while also forcing the school to change to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” plaintiffs’ counsel said April 19.
“We are confident our renewed motion for preliminary approval will address the Court’s concerns, lead to approval of this agreement, and provide these survivors the relief and measure of closure they deserve,” they said.
According to the deal’s terms, Tyndall’s former patients would receive $2,500, $20,000, or $250,000, depending on how much information they choose to provide to the claims administrator.
But Wilson didn’t like that the proposed settlement didn’t explain, “even in a rough sense,” certain calculations around the “worst case scenario” where submitted claims exceeded the settlement fund and awards had to be reduced on a pro-rata basis.
Several high-dollar claims could quickly deplete the settlement, and “the court would be concerned” that class members could be misled into believing that their award would be higher than what they actually received, Wilson said.
The proposal also put too much weight on the value of avoiding reliving trauma at trial and ensuring privacy for claimants, Wilson said. The objective strengths of the patients’ claims against Tyndall and USC, and what causes of action would be central to determining liability and damages, matter more, he said.
Wilson also denied several motions to intervene and to object as premature.
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, Girard Sharp LLP, Sauder Schelkopf LLC, and Kohn Swift & Graf PC represent the class.
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP represents USC.
The case is In re USC Student Health Ctr. Litig., C.D. Cal., No. 18-cv-4258, 4/18/19.
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(Corrected plaintiffs' counsel attribution.)