University of California to pay $243.6M to settle physician sexual abuse claims

The University of California will pay $243.6 million to resolve claims by 203 women who alleged that they were sexually abused when treated by a former longtime University of California Los Angeles gynecologist, according to a UCLA statement shared with Becker's.

The civil settlement covers women who accused James Heaps, MD, of sexual misconduct when he treated them. Dr. Heaps worked at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center from 1986-2018, the university's student health center from 1983-2010 or his medical office from 2014-18.

Under the settlement, each plaintiff will receive $1.2 million, attorneys said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Both parties reached the settlement Feb. 8 with help from a private mediator after substantial litigation, university officials and the plaintiffs' attorneys said in a joint statement shared with the newspaper. 

"The conduct alleged to have been committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to the university's values," UCLA said. "We express our gratitude to the brave individuals who came forward, and hope this settlement is one step toward providing healing and closure for the plaintiffs involved."

The $243.6 million civil settlement comes after a federal judge in July 2021 approved a $73 million settlement that resolved a 2019 class action by more than 5,500 women alleging that Dr. Heaps sexually abused them. The July settlement required UCLA to adopt and implement additional policies and procedures to prevent, identify and address sexual misconduct.

The more than 200 women covered in the $243.6 million settlement were among about 600 women who opted out of the 2019 class action, The New York Times reported. 

Outside of the civil settlements, Dr. Heaps, whom UCLA fired in 2018, faces charges of 21 felony counts of sexual abuse during medical examinations in the criminal case filed against him, according to an indictment cited by the newspaper. 

Leonard B. Levine, an attorney for Dr. Heaps, told the Times that his client "has adamantly denied engaging in any of the conduct he has been accused of. He remains confident that if the charges are litigated in a court of law, he will be totally exonerated."

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