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UC settles for millions after allegations against former UCLA doctor James Heaps

The University of California paid about $3.5 million in settlements to women who raised allegations against former UCLA doctor, James Heaps. He faces criminal charges for two counts of sexual battery and one count of sexual exploitation by a physician. (Jintak Han/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Marilyn Chavez-Martinez

July 15, 2019 12:12 a.m.

The University of California paid millions in settlements in response to allegations raised against former UCLA doctor James Heaps.

In total, the UC paid about $3.5 million in settlements regarding allegations against Heaps, according to public records obtained by the Daily Bruin. Tracy Green, Heaps’ attorney, said Heaps did not have any input in either case, and maintains that he never did anything improper.

The University agreed to pay $1,295,000 in a March settlement, in which a former UCLA nurse practitioner alleged sexual harassment by Heaps and retaliation against her for participating in an investigation about him.

Heaps is currently facing criminal charges for two counts of sexual battery and one count of sexual exploitation by a physician. He has plead not guilty to all charges. He is also facing multiple civil lawsuits from women who have made allegations against him, and denies any wrongdoing.

Green said Heaps had no input into that settlement involving the nurse practitioner and said he did not have a comment on it. She added he did not believe he was harassing or creating a hostile work environment.

The UC also agreed to pay $2,250,000 in a June settlement, in which a woman alleged Heaps sexually assaulted her during an examination in February 2018. In this settlement, regents agreed UCLA Health President Johnese Spisso will meet with the patient on or before Aug. 15.

During the meeting, Spisso will give the patient an opportunity to tell her story, offer an apology on behalf of the regents, explain the corrective actions of the regents, and extend an offer to invite recommendations for UC policies.

In both settlements, the University agreed to pay the money to the attorneys representing the women and other terms without assuming liability for the allegations made. In the case of the nurse practitioner, the University also reserved the right to continue investigating her complaint.

Green said she thinks these two settlements are very different cases, since she thinks the one involving the nurse practitioner was more of a personnel matter, compared to allegations of sexual assault against Heaps.

Green also said Heaps thought the settlement for the alleged sexual assault was a mistake and refused to contribute any money toward the payment.

She added UCLA has reported to the medical board that Heaps’ position was not terminated due to sexual misconduct with a patient.

A UCLA Health spokesperson said in an email statement regarding the settlements that the University evaluates all claims based on their individual circumstances and defenses.

“The decision to settle was made after the investigation and evaluation of available information by the University,” the statement said.

John Manly, a sexual harassment attorney who has filed two civil suits and is representing over 50 alleged victims of Heaps, said he believes the University made a conscious decision to not inform patients about settlements involving allegations against Heaps.

“At the highest levels, not only of UCLA, but the UC system, there was an effort to conceal this from his victims,” Manly said.

The UCLA Title IX office opened an investigation into Heaps on Dec. 22, 2017, which ultimately found sufficient evidence he violated University policy on sexual violence and harassment for retaliation.

UCLA first made a public statement on the Title IX investigation June 10, over a year after the investigation began.

The investigation began in response to a patient complaint stating Heaps touched her for reasons that were not medically necessary during a visit and asked her inappropriate questions. Over the course of the investigation, the office was also made aware of complaints from 2014 and 2015.

A preliminary assessment of the investigation stated his actions in regard to the patient examination must be further reviewed by UCLA medical staff to determine if his actions were medically necessary.

However, an investigative review found evidence Heaps retaliated against a now former UCLA employee by reaching out to her repeatedly in regard to the investigation.

The former employee said she expressed her discomfort to Heaps about his conduct, according to a redacted report included in the public records.

Green said the university did not provide Heaps guidelines as to how to conduct himself during the investigation. She also said Heaps had actually reached out to her in order to ask if she was okay.

Green said Heaps also expressed his personal opinion about allegations made against him to the former employee, but did not realize it was against the Title IX investigation rules to do so.

“He wasn’t trying to hide anything, he’s not telling her what to say, he just said, ‘It just seems ridiculous,’” Green said. “He didn’t even know that that was kind of part of something that he shouldn’t even mention.”

Heaps completed UC Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Prevention Training on July 2014 and Feburary 2016, according to an investigative review included in the public records.

UC policy prohibits retaliation against someone for reporting or participating in an investigation and related processes.

Although the investigation into Heaps began in December 2017, it was not completed until some time after his appointment was terminated. Heaps was notified his contract would not be renewed in April 2018 and he retired in June of the same year.

Green said she does not believe UCLA treated Heaps fairly following his termination.

“One of the things that may come out of this as a lawsuit from Dr. Heaps against UCLA for the way they handled it and failed to follow their own rules, which actually ended up hurting Dr. Heaps.”

Manly said UCLA Health failed to properly conduct an investigation into a 2014 complaint one of his clients made. He also said the university did not make it a requirement to report all cases to the Title IX office until 2016.

“You know, when you have a physician engaging in this kind of behavior over time, it’s not just a symptom of a physician who’s engaged in severe misconduct, it’s a symptom of a culture that would tolerate it,” Manly said.

Heaps is scheduled to appear in court again July 30.

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Marilyn Chavez-Martinez | News and outreach senior staff
Chavez-Martinez was the 2020-2021 Outreach Director. She was previously an assistant news editor managing the campus politics beat and still writes for the Daily Bruin news section occasionally. She is also a fourth-year English and Economics student at UCLA.
Chavez-Martinez was the 2020-2021 Outreach Director. She was previously an assistant news editor managing the campus politics beat and still writes for the Daily Bruin news section occasionally. She is also a fourth-year English and Economics student at UCLA.
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