Secretary DeVos Requires Sweeping Changes at USC After Title IX Investigation Finds University Failed for Years to Protect Students from Sexual Abuse

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Secretary DeVos Requires Sweeping Changes at USC After Title IX Investigation Finds University Failed for Years to Protect Students from Sexual Abuse

February 27, 2020

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced today that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will require the University of Southern California (USC) to make sweeping changes to its Title IX procedures after finding that the school failed to protect students from Dr. George Tyndall, formerly employed as a gynecologist at the school's student health center, since as far back as 1989. As a result of the systemic failures at USC, the Department is requiring the school to overhaul its Title IX processes, conduct a formal review of current and former employees to determine if they responded appropriately to notice of possible sex discrimination, and allow OCR to monitor its compliance for three years.

"This total and complete failure to protect students is heartbreaking and inexcusable," said Secretary DeVos. "Too many at USC turned a blind eye to evidence that Dr. Tyndall was preying on students for years. We are grateful to every survivor who came forward to share their story with our OCR investigators. Because of your bravery, we can now work with the University to ensure this never happens to another student on USC's campus."

On May 24, 2018, OCR opened a directed investigation to determine USC's Title IX compliance regarding the conduct of Dr. George Tyndall. OCR investigated whether the University received notice of allegations of misconduct by Tyndall, whether the University failed to respond appropriately, and if so, whether the failure allowed any female student to be subject to continuing sex discrimination. 

OCR found that the University failed to respond appropriately to notice of possible misconduct by Dr. Tyndall and that the University's failure to respond appropriately may have allowed female students to be subjected to continuing sex discrimination. OCR also found that USC failed to maintain a recordkeeping system to identify and monitor incidents of possible sex discrimination by its employees. Specifically:

  • USC had notice of possible misconduct by Tyndall of five patients from 2000 to 2009. It failed to investigate, assess whether interim measures were needed, determine whether the five patients were subjected to sex discrimination, or ensure that steps were taken to prevent recurrence of the conduct and correct its effects for patients who complained and/or other patients. It also had notice of possible mistreatment of four more patients by Dr. Tyndall, and it failed to respond appropriately.
  • Patients and staff complained that during the course of conducting pelvic examinations, Dr. Tyndall made inappropriate remarks, often commenting on the physical attributes of patients' bodies.
  • In 2016, USC failed to investigate complaints that Tyndall conducted pelvic examinations without gloves. That same year, the University failed to investigate complaints raised by chaperones and the Nurse Supervisor regarding Tyndall's digital penetration of patients during examinations and full-body skin checks. 
  • When in 2016 the University discovered over 200 photographs of patients' genitals in Dr. Tyndall's office, it failed to investigate whether the photographing of patients and the possession of the photographs constituted sex discrimination. In addition, the University failed to take reasonable steps to locate the remaining photographs that Tyndall admitted to taking from 1989 to 2010 and permitted him to continue seeing patients for a day and a half after the discovery of the photographs.

As a result of the serious deficiencies investigators found, OCR and USC have entered into a Resolution Agreement (RA) that requires USC to take the following actions:

  • Ensure that its Title IX Coordinator and Title IX Office have the independent authority to respond to reports of sex discrimination and ensure that services provided by the University's health services are compliant with Title IX.
  • Ensure that the Title IX office tracks and monitors every complaint or report of potential sex discrimination and provides OCR with documentation of reports and complaints of sexual harassment.
  • Make reasonable efforts to contact the nine patients who complained of misconduct by Dr. Tyndall and notify current and former students, and current and former University employees who may have interacted with him, to offer to remedy the harm done by sex discrimination. Such remedies may include academic accommodations and counseling, among others.
  • Change its Title IX procedures to ensure that all involved parties receive due process, require training for students, employees, and trustees regarding sex discrimination, and require specialized training for health center employees.
  • Conduct a review of current and former employees to determine whether they took appropriate action upon receiving notice of complaints or concerns regarding Dr. Tyndall.

"What we have found at USC is shocking and reprehensible," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus. "No student should ever have to face the disgusting behavior that USC students had to deal with. I am pleased that President Folt is now committing to major changes, and we will closely monitor the University to make sure that it complies with our agreement."

Under the leadership of Secretary DeVos, OCR has moved aggressively to investigate schools that fail to protect students from sexual misconduct and to bring them into compliance with civil rights law. The Department has most notably required sweeping reforms to protect students at Michigan State University and in Chicago Public Schools. Just yesterday, Secretary DeVos announced a new OCR initiative to prevent sexual violence in K-12 schools.

The Letter of Finding in the USC case is available here. The Resolution Agreement is available here.