Former Patient’s Lawsuit Alleges Sex Assault by UCLA Gynecologist Facing Criminal Charges
A woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by a gynecologist who worked for the University of California, Los Angeles, has sued the university’s regents, the doctor and 20 other parties.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court says Dr. James Heaps inappropriately touched her genitals, breast and buttock at his office in 2017 while having her intrauterine device removed. She also claims he made inappropriate sexual comments.
The woman has suffered “tremendous and lasting harm,” the lawsuit states.
Heaps, 62, is criminally charged with two counts of sexual battery by fraud and pleaded not guilty on Monday. The woman’s attorney, Jennifer McGrath, confirmed her client is one of two unidentified women cited as victims in that case.
UCLA Health spokeswoman Rhonda Curry has said the university is aware of four complaints against Heaps. It only referred two of those to law enforcement and first told the campus community of the allegations on Monday.
McGrath and another attorney are also representing the other woman cited as a victim in the criminal case.
The university has pledged an independent review of its response and has encouraged potential victims to contact a third-party company with any complaints.
University of California President Janet Napolitano said in a statement Wednesday that she has convened a group to review of policies and procedures “related to inappropriate sexual behavior in our medical centers and student health centers.”
Heaps has denied any wrongdoing. His attorney, Tracy Green, called the lawsuit “completely exaggerated” and said his exams were always thorough and some patients may have misunderstood that his touching was for a medical purpose.
“Someone doesn’t practice for 30 years and all of a sudden change their approach,” she said.
The lawsuit also alleges the state medical board investigated a 2014 complaint against Heaps involving another possible victim; Green said that case was closed with no finding of wrongdoing.
Curry said the university has not substantiated that there was a 2014 medical board investigation. UCLA received its first complaint against Heaps in December 2017, which prompted its investigation, Curry said.
The medical board’s website showed no records of discipline against Heaps and he has a current license to practice medicine.
The university regents’ office declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
Ann Fromholz, a Pasadena-based employment lawyer who has conducted hundreds of workplace investigations, said UCLA may have violated state and federal employment law, as well as its own sexual violence reporting policies, when it failed to act on two of the four complaints against Heaps.
“It doesn’t make any sense why they didn’t go further,” she said.
She also said campus officials should have alerted the community to allegations sooner to seek out additional victims and protect others.
UCLA Health has apologized for its response to the accusations.
The scandal comes in the wake of hundreds of accusations of sexual abuse by the nearby University of Southern California’s longtime staff gynecologist, who has not been criminally charged.
Heaps’ attorney said it’s “irresponsible” to compare the two.
In the lawsuit, the woman claims another UCLA gynecologist referred her to Heaps. Her first appointment, where her family was present, went smoothly.
At her second appointment, she alleges Heaps groped her and fondled “without medical justification” her even as a female nurse was present. Her family was not there.
“She really was fearful while the incident was occurring,” McGrath said.
The unidentified nurse seemed to be uncomfortable with the alleged abuse but remained silent, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims the woman told her regular gynecologist about the incident and was later contacted by UCLA Health human resources. The state medical board also reached out to her, the lawsuit said.
The complaint claims the regents “condoned and ratified” Heaps’ conduct by failing to take immediate action against him. The lawsuit also alleges the regents did not adequately train its employees such as the nurse to recognize and report such incidents.
Jessica Chou, a nurse who worked with Heaps at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center between 1991 and 1993 and later saw him as a patient, called him a “compassionate person” who often held his patients’ hands to comfort them. Chou said she interacted with Heaps’ patients before and after surgeries and never saw any misconduct.
Heni Lebastchi of Westwood, California, said she has been a patient of Heaps’ for more than 25 years and her family members and friends saw him.
“I do not believe these allegations, even for a minute,” she said.