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USC settles lawsuits with 80 men who accused doctor of sexual misconduct

The former students, many of them gay men, accused Dr. Dennis Kelly of misconduct over the course of two decades. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Image: University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles.
University of Southern California in Los Angeles.AaronP / Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Getty Images

The University of Southern California settled lawsuits with 80 former students, many of them gay men, who accused a campus doctor of sexual misconduct over the course of two decades, officials said Friday.

The resolution marks a key point in holding USC "accountable for its failure to protect" students from Dr. Dennis Kelly, according to attorney Mikayla Kellogg, whose firm represented 57 of the 80 male plaintiffs.

Kelly was fired by USC in 2018 and lost his license to practice in 2020.

“The settlement was achieved through the persistence and bravery of our clients who had the strength to come forward to share the harrowing details of their experiences at the USC Student Health Center and the determination to hold USC accountable for its failure to protect its students,” Kellogg said in a statement.

Kelly was accused of asking inappropriate questions of students and subjected many to needlessly invasive procedures, such as rectal examinations.

The abuse started shortly after he arrived at USC in 1997 and spanned nearly his entire career on the Los Angeles campus, a spokesman for the plaintiffs said.

Of the 80 plaintiffs, all are men and 76 identify as gay.

“The settlement today is another step toward closure for our clients who finally feel a sense of recognition and validation for speaking up," Kellogg said.

No monetary figures were disclosed. USC said both the school and plaintiffs are pleased the cases won't go to trial.

"USC’s highest commitment is to the safety and health of all members of the Trojan community, including the current and former students involved in this matter," USC said in a statement to NBC News on Friday. "Settling the cases provides closure for all involved and avoids several more years of litigation."

The settlement covers all claims against both USC and Kelly, a spokesman for the plaintiffs said.

Kelly insisted he did not improperly touch any students.

"I am glad that the complaints have been dismissed and to put this matter behind me," he said in statement to NBC News. "I did nothing wrong."

USC last year reached a $1.1 billion settlement with female students who accused former student health center gynecologist George Tyndall of repeated sexual assaults.

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office found USC mishandled the cases, leading to a "complete failure to protect students," then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in 2020.

Tyndall was accused of targeting women, often foreign students from China and other Asian countries, for exams that included inappropriate touching.

He's pleaded not guilty and is now awaiting trial on charges that he sexually assaulted nearly two dozen women.