USC faces yet another legal battle — this time with accusations against former campus doctor Dennis Kelly. Six former students, who identify as gay or bisexual, have filed a lawsuit against the University and doctor, claiming Kelly committed sexual battery, sexual harassment and gender violence against them, according to the complaint.
Kelly was the only men’s sexual health doctor at the Engemann Student Health Center for nearly 20 years. The physician resigned in August 2018, according to his resignation email, which was obtained by the Daily Trojan. The complaint was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court by Kellogg & Van Aken LLP, a San Francisco-based firm specializing in civil litigation for sexual assault and abuse cases.
Kelly is accused of sexual battery, sexual abuse and discrimination in an educational setting, gender violence and sexual harassment. The lawsuit also claims USC was responsible for fraud, along with negligent hiring and retention. In a statement to the Daily Trojan, a University spokesperson said USC is aware of the lawsuit.
“We’re working to understand the facts of this matter,” the spokesperson said. “We care deeply about our entire Trojan family, including our LGBTQ+ community, and take this matter very seriously. We will provide more information as it’s available.”
According to the lawsuit, Kelly subjected patients John Does 1 through 6 to unnecessary rectal examinations. He instructed the plaintiffs to undress in front of him and sit on their hands and knees on the examination table while naked from the waist down.
“Despite Plaintiff John Doe 1’s lack of symptoms and lack of sexual activity since his last men’s health visit, Dr. Kelly insisted that John Doe 1 have a rectal examination,” the suit read. “John Doe 1 was alarmed and he protested the rectal examination … Dr. Kelly insisted it was necessary … making John Doe 1 feel exposed and extremely uncomfortable.”
The lawsuit said Kelly refused to give “standard medical covering, drapery or robe for privacy” to the plaintiffs who requested it.
“Plaintiff John Doe 2 asked Dr. Kelly if he could have some privacy while he undressed or if he could have a robe to cover his body, to which Dr. Kelly refused and made the disturbing and inappropriate comment that it was ‘just us’ and that he was ‘going to see it anyway,’” the lawsuit read.
During some of the examinations, Kelly used his fingers and medical devices to penetrate the patients’ anuses without providing reason for the treatment, the lawsuit alleged. Kelly used the examinations to “satisfy his own prurient sexual desires and/or to shame, humiliate and embarrass Plaintiffs as a result of their sexual orientation and sexual practices,” it read.
According to the complaint, when plaintiff John Doe 2 saw a female physician during one of his appointments because Kelly was unavailable, she allowed him to undress in private and provided treatment while he laid on his side rather than his hands and knees. The suit said John Doe 2 felt “safe and comfortable” during this meeting, but was told he would have to see Kelly for the remainder of his treatment when he requested to see the female physician again. The lawsuit also alleged Kelly did not subject straight male patients to these examinations.
Kelly is also accused of discriminating against the plaintiffs because of their sexual orientations, and questioning their sexual history by using “derogatory” terms when he asked about their sexual practices.
In a statement to the Daily Trojan, attorneys Mikayla Kellogg and Kelly Van Aken, who represent the six plaintiffs, said they hope USC and Kelly will be held accountable for their actions.
“Our clients have shown incredible courage in coming forward with their private and sensitive experiences with Dr. Dennis Kelly and are committed to holding USC accountable for failing to protect its students,” the attorneys wrote. “We call on USC to come forward with the truth about what they know and when they knew it. We further call on them to conduct a thorough and independent investigation of these serious allegations and USC’s failure to protect its students.”
The firm claimed that Kelly took advantage of the campus’ LGBTQ+ community.
“LGBTQ students are an especially vulnerable population on college campuses,” the firm wrote. “Many of the gay and bisexual men who saw Dr. Kelly were inexperienced with sexual health visits and some were seeing a doctor without a parent present for the first time. We allege that Dr. Kelly took advantage of their vulnerability and inexperience to discriminate against gay and bisexual men and/or to satisfy his own sexual interests.”
The students listed negligent hiring and retention among the damages listed in the complaint against Kelly. The firm alleges USC was made aware of the allegations and failed to investigate the claims, according to the lawsuit and statement.
“Despite receiving repeated complaints regarding Dr. Kelly’s misconduct, USC actively and deliberately failed to investigate, discipline or address Dr. Kelly’s sexually abusive and discriminatory behavior and instead continued to employ Dr. Kelly for years,” the suit read.
One sophomore, who identifies as a gay male but asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, said he had his first sexual health checkup with Kelly last spring. He said Kelly asked about his use of dating apps, which two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit cited as reasons for their discomfort.
“I felt like he asked me a lot of weirdly invasive questions about the type of sex I was having and how often I was having sex that in my opinion I felt weren’t necessary,” he said.
He said the emerging details of the lawsuit have made him consider coming forward, but that he wants to wait to hear more about the allegations. Kellogg & Van Aken LLP currently has a page on its website for former patients of Kelly to report their experiences including instances of inappropriate touching and invasive questioning.
“[The new lawsuit] put my experience into perspective and [made me feel] that my feelings were valid,” he said.
Kelly has worked as a men’s health specialist at Cal State Northridge since 2002. Though he is still employed by CSUN, the university’s Media Relations said he has been placed on administrative leave.
“At this time, we are not aware of any complaints against Dr. Kelly from any member of the CSUN community,” CSUN said in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “The health and safety of our students is our top priority. We take the disturbing allegations by the former USC students, as well as any sexual assault, battery or harassment allegation against anyone at the university, seriously.”
Kellogg & Van Aken LLP is asking individuals who have experienced abuse or discrimination and want a consultation or information to contact the firm via its website.