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UCLA may pay $73M in James Heaps class action settlement

UCLA may have to pay $73 million as part of a settlement of a class action lawsuit. (Kanishka Mehra/Photo editor)

By Justin Jung and Bernard Mendez

Nov. 16, 2020 10:37 p.m.

UCLA may have to pay $73 million to past patients of former OB-GYN James Heaps and reform its sexual misconduct procedures under the terms of a class action sexual misconduct settlement.

The settlement, filed in a federal court Monday, is pending approval from a federal judge after members of the class action lawsuit, or class members, review it. The Regents of the University of California, one of two defendants, has agreed to the settlement.

If accepted, the settlement would require UCLA to pay up to 6,600 of Heaps’ former patients between $2,500 and $250,000 each. Some individuals may be paid more in “extraordinary cases,” according to court filings.

In addition to payments, the settlement would require UCLA medical facilities to reform their response to alleged sexual harassment. Required reforms include updating the UC’s Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment and implementing a mandatory chaperone program for sensitive medical procedures.

[Related link: UCLA’s failure to report Heaps 2014 allegations to Title IX prompts new lawsuit]

Two law firms initially filed the class action suit in August 2019, alleging UCLA did not properly respond to sexual misconduct allegations against Heaps from as early as 2014. In the agreement Monday, the Regents of the University of California and Heaps, the defendants, denied allegations of wrongdoing.

Heaps, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 100 women, was previously a David Geffen School of Medicine faculty member from 1989 to 2018 and was an OB-GYN at UCLA Health from February 2014 to June 2018. Heaps is alleged to have inappropriately touched patients while treating them as an OB-GYN.

More than 6,600 people may be eligible to receive funds from the settlement, according to court filings. UCLA has already identified about 5,000 eligible patients from its records, but there may be as many as 1,600 more former patients who are eligible that UCLA no longer has records for, according to court filings.

As part of the settlement, the former patients eligible to receive funds would automatically be included in the payments unless they opt out. Class members who did not opt out of the settlement would be prohibited from filing individual sexual misconduct lawsuits against Heaps, according to court filings. Plaintiffs of ongoing individual lawsuits would also be required to opt out or drop their separate sexual misconduct lawsuits against Heaps.

UCLA would be required to implement a chaperone program for “sensitive” medical procedures, including physical examination of the breasts, genitalia or rectum of patients 8 years old or older, unless the patient opts out.

The agreement would also require that every UCLA physician pass a boundaries training course starting in July 2021.

The UCLA Health and Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center websites would be required to add links that inform patients of non-discrimination policies and how to report sexual misconduct.

When providing or renewing credentials for UCLA medical staff, UCLA would be required to ask applicants if any sexual misconduct allegations have been made against them. UCLA Health would also be required to ask physicians and medical practitioners about sexual misconduct policies and past allegations when acquiring private practices.

The Title IX Office would also work with UCLA Health and the Ashe Center to oversee the implementation of reforms and respond to sexual misconduct allegations. UCLA Health must also employ two Title IX investigators.

 The UC Office of the President senior vice president for ethics, compliance and audit services would work with UCLA to implement the required reforms, and annual reports would be sent to the class action plaintiffs’ lawyers, the university chancellor and the UC Board of Regents for at least three years.

The lawyers in the case represented seven plaintiffs alleging sexual misconduct and interviewed more than 20 former patients, according to court filings.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UCLA Health said in a statement that it is working to protect patients and noted that the settlement is pending court approval. The university investigated UCLA Health’s sexual misconduct procedures and is working to implement the investigators’ recommendations, according to the statement.

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Justin Jung | Assistant Enterprise editor
Jung is the 2020-2021 assistant Enterprise editor. He is also a news reporter and photographer for the Daily Bruin. Jung is a second-year global studies and geography/environmental studies student.
Jung is the 2020-2021 assistant Enterprise editor. He is also a news reporter and photographer for the Daily Bruin. Jung is a second-year global studies and geography/environmental studies student.
Bernard Mendez | News editor
Mendez is the 2020-2021 News editor. He was previously a staff news reporter for the Science & Health beat and a developer for The Stack. He is also a third-year math student at UCLA.
Mendez is the 2020-2021 News editor. He was previously a staff news reporter for the Science & Health beat and a developer for The Stack. He is also a third-year math student at UCLA.
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