A 44-year-old cancer patient who alleges that a former UCLA gynecologist/oncologist repeatedly sexually assaulted her during her two years of treatment is suing the physician and the University of California Board of Regents.
The plaintiff, identified only as Jane Doe, had mesothelioma when she went to Dr. James Heaps for surgery in October 2015, according to her Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit.
She is seeking unspecified damages on allegations of sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual harassment, as well as negligent hiring and retention.
UCLA Health released a one-sentence statement in response to the lawsuit.
“The allegations against Dr. Heaps contained in the lawsuit are very disturbing,” the statement read.
The university previously confirmed that Heaps worked part-time from 1983 to 2010 at UCLA’s student health center before being hired in 2014 by UCLA Health and held medical staff privileges at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center from 1988 to 2018.
Heaps, 62, is facing criminal charges of sexually battering two unnamed patients in 2017 and 2018 at UCLA Health.
He pleaded not guilty on June 10 to two counts of sexual battery by fraud and one count of sexual exploitation of a patient and is due back in court on June 26 to get a date for a preliminary hearing that will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
In a statement announcing Doe’s lawsuit, her attorneys said at least 22 other women have stepped forward alleging that Heaps sexually assaulted them while he was practicing at UCLA, and at least two have also filed lawsuits.
The suit filed Tuesday alleges that during four visits ending in June 2017, Heaps abused his position of trust to improperly touch the plaintiff’s genitals, fondle her breasts and squeeze her nipples under the guise of a medical examination.
The lawsuit further alleges that a UCLA nurse did nothing while in the examination room with Heaps and Doe during one visit while he abused the plaintiff. Instead of monitoring Heaps, the nurse walked to a computer and sat with her back turned to the doctor, according to the complaint, which says Heaps was allowed to “quietly resign” in 2018 after an internal investigation found he had violated the Regents’ sexual misconduct policy.
The lawyer alleged that UCLA received complaints about Heaps’ alleged misconduct before Doe became his patient, yet nothing was done and he was allowed to continue practicing medicine throughout the two years he allegedly abused her.
“All sexual abuse is horrific, but taking advantage of a cancer patient who literally places her life in her doctor’s hands is ghoulish,” plaintiff’s attorney John Manly said.
After the criminal case was filed against Heaps, UCLA issued a statement from Chancellor Gene Block and Vice Chancellor John Mazziotta citing “a profound sense of sadness” about the “distressing information.”
“Last year, in response to allegations of sexual misconduct against Dr. Heaps, UCLA investigated his conduct, removed him from clinical practice, informed him that his employment was being terminated (after which he announced he was retiring) and reported him to the Medical Board of California and law enforcement,” the statement said.
UCLA said it initiated a review in March of the university’s response to sexual misconduct in clinical settings and promised transparency and accountability in the process. The committee leading the effort includes Block; Carlos Moreno, a former California Supreme Court justice; and Lori Pelliccioni, a former UC regent and former assistant U.S. attorney with 25 years of experience in the health care industry.
The university also urged patients with complaints about Heaps to contact Praesidium, a firm with experience connecting patients with support services, at 888-961-9273.
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