One Year Ago Today (November 16, 2020)…UCLA and Dr. James Heaps have agreed to a $73 million class action settlement that will settle claims brought by women that Heaps allegedly abused and assaulted while working at UCLA medical facilities, it was announced.
The agreement, which still needs approval by a judge, also requires UCLA to ensure stronger oversight procedures for identification, prevention and reporting of sexual misconduct.
Originally filed in 2019, the lawsuit accuses the doctor of assault, abuse and harassment and accuses UCLA of failing to protect his patients after first becoming aware of the misconduct.
The entirety of the $73 million will go toward compensating more than 5,500 women who received treatment from Heaps at either the Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center from 1986-2018, the school’s student health center from 1983-2010, or Heaps’ university medical office from 2014-18. The settlement structure provides survivors a choice on how they want to participate, delivering relief in a swifter and more private manner than protracted litigation.
“The trauma that I have been carrying for far too long is one that thousands of other women around the country also share,” said a former patient of Heaps and member of the class. “I am relieved that we have reached a resolution that provides a way for other women to come forward in a confidential manner.”
UCLA Health said the incidents described in the lawsuit “reflect alleged conduct that is contrary to our values. We thank the individuals who came forward and hope that this settlement … is one small step forward for the patients involved.”
The school added that an “independent review, conducted by a special committee on behalf of the University of California Board of Regents, examined how we respond to allegations of sexual misconduct by medical professionals and was completed earlier this year. UCLA Health, the UCLA Ashe Student Health Center and UC system leadership have already taken many steps to address the issues discussed in the report. UCLA is committed to policies and procedures to protect patients.”
The university said its goal “is to provide the best patient experience with every patient, every encounter, every time. As we move forward, we remain committed to providing top quality care that respects the dignity of every patient.”
The behavior alleged in the lawsuit includes sexual abuse during examinations, recommending unnecessary procedures and overly frequent examinations to create additional opportunities for abuse, making inappropriate and sexually suggestive comments and removing patients’ clothing or gowns without consent.
The agreement is subject to approval by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner in Los Angeles federal court.
The lawsuit alleges that while patients complained about Heaps years earlier, it was not until late 2017 that allegations of sexual misconduct by the gynecologist were reported to UCLA’s Title IX office and a formal investigation was opened. Heaps was allowed to continue seeing patients — both during the investigation and after UCLA informed Heaps that his contract would not be renewed when it expired on June 30, 2018.
UCLA ended Heaps’ employment and notified law enforcement of the allegations against him on June 14, 2018. In June 2019, Heaps was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual battery. Following his arrest, many more women came forward to report sexual misconduct. In August 2020, Heaps was charged with additional felonies.
“Any institution that uncovers sexual abuse and misconduct has a duty to act,” said Elizabeth Kramer, a plaintiffs’ attorney. “We believe UCLA was slow to respond, but it ultimately acknowledged the problem, and the parties were able to reach a settlement that provides prompt and meaningful compensation, and requires robust patient safety measures.”
In addition to compensation, UCLA has undertaken a series of reforms, including:
— Implementing a new investigation model for sexual harassment/sexual assault;
— improved chaperone policies that, among other things, require annual training;
— notice to patients of reporting options;
— training for UCLA medical facilities personnel on provider-patient boundaries and on conducting sensitive examinations;
— enhanced due diligence during the credentialing and re-credentialing process and in connection with UCLA Health’s acquisition of a physician or group practice; and
— appointment of a compliance monitor to facilitate, oversee and evaluate implementation of these institutional changes.
The settlement offers three tiers of compensation:
— Tier 1: Women who have been pre-identified as class members based on university records will automatically receive a $2,500 payment without any action required on their part. Those who have not been pre-identified can submit a form either online or through the mail to seek their compensation. All Tier 1 victims are also eligible to apply for Tier 2 or Tier 3 compensation;
— Tier 2: Women who choose to share additional information about their experience(s) with Dr. Heaps may be eligible to receive an additional payment of $10,000, for a total Tier 2 payment of $12,500. Each Tier 2 claim will be reviewed by an impartial, three-person panel that includes a court-appointed special master, a forensic psychologist/psychiatrist and an OB-GYN; and
– Tier 3: Victims who wish to provide further evidence will be interviewed by a member of the special master’s team about their experience. Submitting a Tier 3 Claim is optional, and those who participate may be eligible for a total payment between $12,500 and $250,000. An additional $5 million will be set aside for certain claimants within Tier 3, and the panel can make awards in excess of $250,000 in the most serious cases.
“This flexible approach has been successfully employed in other sexual assault settlements,” plaintiffs’ attorney Amy Zeman said. “Women can choose their level of engagement with the settlement process, and the highest levels of compensation are available to those who were most harmed. Not only will this agreement provide compensation for victims, it requires the university to institute new reforms that will protect women now and going forward.”