US university to pay $244 million over gynaecologist sexual assault claims

Published: 02:19 PM, 9 Feb, 2022
US university to pay $244 million over gynaecologist sexual assault claims
Caption: Dr.James Heaps, centre, before a court hearing in Los Angeles in June 2019.–NYT
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The University of California will pay almost a quarter of a billion dollars to 200 women who allege they were assaulted by a school gynaecologist, officials said Tuesday.

James Heaps was affiliated with the university's Los Angeles site (UCLA) for 35 years, and saw thousands of patients.

Hundreds of lawsuits claim UCLA deliberately hid Heaps' sexual abuse of patients, and allowed him to continue to have unfettered access to alleged victims over many years.

In a settlement filed in a Los Angeles court, the university agreed to pay $243.6 million to 203 people who alleged they were assaulted by Heaps.

Heaps faces 21 criminal counts of sexual abuse against seven women. 

"The conduct alleged to have been committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to the University's values," a statement said Tuesday.

"Our first and highest obligation will always be to the communities we serve, and we hope this settlement is one step toward providing healing and closure for the plaintiffs involved. 

"We admire the courage of the plaintiffs in coming forward."

The settlement comes after the University of Michigan agreed to pay $490 million to hundreds of students and athletes who were sexually abused by long-time university doctor Richard Anderson.

Nearby Michigan State University reached a half-billion dollar settlement with 300 people who were abused by Larry Nassar, a doctor who also treated members of the US women's Olympics gymnastics team.

The University of Southern California announced in March last year that it had entered into three settlements totalling $1.1 billion with hundreds of female students sexually abused by a school gynaecologist

US lawsuit accuses Harvard of ignoring sexual harassment

Three women sued Harvard University on Tuesday alleging that the prestigious US institution ignored sexual harassment allegations against a prominent professor.

The plaintiffs, all doctoral students, say that anthropology professor John Comaroff kissed and groped students without their consent and threatened to sabotage their careers if they complained.

Margaret Czerwienski, Lilia Kilburn and Amulya Mandava say in their civil case that the 77-year-old Comaroff was allowed to get away with the alleged behavior for years.  

"All three plaintiffs repeatedly complained to Harvard administrators," said the suit filed in a Boston federal court.

"But the university brushed them aside and opted to protect its star professor over vulnerable students," it added.

The lawsuit says the women first approached Harvard staff about Comaroff nearly five years ago.

It alleges that Comaroff kissed Kilburn on the mouth without her consent, squeezed her thigh in public and told her she could be raped or killed in parts of Africa for being in a same-sex relationship.

The lawsuit says Kilburn was subjected to "a continuing nightmare that included more forced kissing, groping, persistent invitations to socialize alone off-campus, and coercive control."

Allegations against Comaroff were first detailed in the university's newspaper, The Harvard Crimson more than a year ago, according to the New York Times.

Comaroff was placed on administrative leave for this year's spring semester after an investigation last month found that he engaged in verbal conduct that violated Harvard's policies on harassment, the Times reported.

He was also barred from teaching required courses through the next academic year.

Comaroff was not found responsible for unwanted sexual contact though, the paper added.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, describes the measures as "limited, temporary sanctions."

Harvard University's media team did not respond to requests for comment from AFP.

Lawyers for Comaroff disputed the accusations against their client in a statement carried by the New York Times.

"Professor Comaroff categorically denies ever harassing or retaliating against any student," they said.


Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.