Federal judge delays progress of $215 million Tyndall settlement

The United States District Court ordered USC to clarify concerns regarding the settlement for former patients of George Tyndall. (Daily Trojan file photo)

The United States District Court of Central California denied a motion for preliminary approval of the proposed $215 million class-action settlement brought by victims of former campus gynecologist George Tyndall Thursday, according to District Court minutes obtained by the Daily Trojan.

USC reached the proposed settlement, which will distribute tiered compensation to all former patients of Tyndall, if passed. The University agreed to file the settlement in February 2019.

Though 650 victims have filed suits against Tyndall and the University, the agreement outlined a settlement distribution for an estimated 17,000 former patients. The agreement also included a series of reforms the University must implement with regard to sexual or racial misconduct complaints.

“The Court’s primary concerns with the proposed settlement, and the reasons for the Court’s decision to deny the motion for preliminary approval of the proposed settlement, are two-fold,” the court wrote in an order to USC. “The Court and class members lack information about certain key components of the settlement, and the Court believes that some of the procedures for administering the settlement are unfair or inadequate.”

According to the order, the court expressed concerns with the “informational deficiencies” in the agreement. In particular, the court alleges the settlement does not adequately explain the pro rata reductions in the second and third tiers, which vary in amount depending on how much information former Tyndall patients are willing to bring forward.

“The Court would be concerned about class members being misled into believing that their award will be higher than their actual amount of compensation received,” the court wrote. “Simply put, the current description is inadequate to inform class members about the estimated variation in their potential recovery.”

Moreover, the court said it is concerned with who will determine the adjustments made to compensations within each tier and when they will be made.

In addition to concerns regarding victim compensation, the court requested the University submit all relevant information regarding Tyndall’s personnel file, complaints made during his employment and USC’s knowledge, or lack thereof, over the past three decades.

“Such information would be necessary for the Court to satisfy its burden under Rule 23 — to ensure that notice to class members of the proposed settlement would be appropriate,” the court wrote.

The court said class members should be provided with more information before moving forward with the settlement.

“Class members need to know exactly what USC’s responsibilities would be on an ongoing basis to monitor, prevent and respond to abuse committed by staff or other professionals employed by the school,” the court wrote.

In a statement to the Daily Trojan, USC said it will work to address the  concerns raised by the court.

“We continue to believe that the federal class action settlement offers a fair and reliable alternative to individual litigation in state court,” USC wrote. “This settlement is designed to provide relief in a manner that respects the dignity and privacy of all women impacted by this experience, by allowing them to receive compensation without the difficulty or uncertainty of a public trial, regardless of when their visits occurred.”

According to the order, the University providing more information in the settlement may influence whether or not individuals decide to remain part of it.

“The decision of many class members whether to remain in the settlement class may turn on the adequacy of the equitable measures in the settlement, and without knowing what USC would be bound to do on a granular level, class members would be deprived of the opportunity to voice their concerns about the equitable relief reached by the Committee,” the court wrote.

Additionally, the court was concerned with procedural practices with the settlement. It claims the decision-making process, where the court nominates a retired judge to make settlement determinations as a Special Master, may result in arbitrary decisions.

Alternatively, the court recommended a committee of three individuals, including the Special Master, an OB/GYN and a forensic psychologist.

The court ordered USC to file renewed motions for preliminary approval and for the appointment of a special master within 30 days of Thursday. The court also asked the University to address the concerns and ordered parties to review all documents pertaining to the complaints against Tyndall within seven days of the order.