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University of California system settles gynecologist sex abuse suit for $243.6 million

The settlement covers about 50 cases involving 203 women who said they were groped or otherwise abused by former UCLA gynecologist Dr. James Heaps over a 35-year career.
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Attorney John Manly, at podium, is joined by survivors and fellow attorneys representing more than 150 survivors of former UCLA gynecologist James Heaps, in Irvine, Calif., on Feb. 8, 2022. Leonard Ortiz / AP
/ Source: Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The University of California has agreed to pay $243.6 million to settle allegations that hundreds of women were sexually abused by a former UCLA gynecologist, lawyers and the university announced Tuesday.

The settlement covers about 50 cases involving 203 women who said they were groped or otherwise abused by Dr. James Heaps over a 35-year career. Each will receive $1.2 million, attorneys said.

The deal was reached with the assistance of a private mediator after substantial litigation, the parties said.

“The conduct alleged to have been committed by Heaps is reprehensible and contrary to the university’s values,” a UCLA statement 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.”

Two women who said Heaps abused them spoke at an afternoon news conference.

“I’ve been waiting 20 years for this day,” said Julie Wallach, who said she was abused by Heaps in the late 1990s — but when she reported it to UCLA and the state medical board, “no one listened.”

Deborah Heaps,James Heaps
UCLA gynecologist James Heaps, center, and his wife, Deborah Heaps, arrive at Los Angeles Superior Court on June 26, 2019.Damian Dovarganes / AP file

“There was no one else to go to. I mean, who do you fight?” she said. “The emotional toll it’s taken over the years has been tremendous.”

Kara Cagle said she was assaulted by Heaps eight years ago at a time when she’d been undergoing grueling treatment for a rare form of breast cancer.

“I could never have imagined that someone would have taken such despicable advantage of me during that time. It was so traumatic that I left in tears,” she said, adding that “my heart breaks for all the women who were not spared.”

The University of California, Los Angeles, began investigating Heaps in 2017 and he retired the next year after the school declined to renew his contract. Heaps also was criminally charged last year with 21 counts of sexual offenses involving seven women. He has pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing.

Leonard Levine, Heaps’ criminal attorney, told the Los Angeles Times that his client “adamantly maintains his innocence, and we are currently litigating the case in the court of appeal.”

He added he has sought a writ to toss a grand jury indictment and dismiss the criminal case, according to the newspaper.

John C. Manly, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, called Heaps a sophisticated predator who committed abuse under the guise of normal medical procedures such as pelvis and breast examinations. Many of the people who made accusations of abuse were cancer patients, he said.

“Perpetrators are not the drooling ghoul that the media portrays them to be overtly,” he said. “They’re nice people, they’re gregarious, they’re polite, they have good reputations, and that’s what these women faced.”

Manly said University of California system regents made the decision to resolve the claims rather than “unnecessarily inflicting further damage upon these survivors” and it should be a model for other universities facing similar claims.

Manly said there are thousands of practicing doctors nationwide who have administrative and criminal convictions for molesting their patients and he urged federal lawmakers to take steps to protect the public.

The lawsuits were among hundreds filed that allege abuse by Heaps. UCLA settled a similar lawsuit last year for $73 million.

In that case, more than 100 women said that between 1983 and 2018, Heaps groped women, simulated intercourse with an ultrasound probe or made inappropriate comments during examinations at the UCLA student health center, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center or his on-campus office.