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USC settles sexual harassment accusations with LGBTQ alumni


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In this May 22, 2018 photo, people enter the University of Southern California’s Engemann Student Health Center in Los Angeles. The University of Southern California has settled a lawsuit with 80 former students, mostly gay and bisexual men, who accused a male doctor of sexual misconduct. The agreement announced Thursday, April 28, 2022, for an undisclosed sum follows settlements by the Los Angeles school to pay more than $1 billion to thousands of women who said they were sexually abused by another male doctor at the student health center. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

AP

The University of Southern California reached a settlement with 80 former patients who accused a men’s health doctor of sexual harassment and battery during appointments.

The university, the doctor and the 80 former patients reached a “global settlement” regarding the misconduct allegations, according to a joint statement by USC and the patients’ lawyers released April 27.

“All parties have mutually agreed that the details of the settlement will remain confidential,” the statement said, adding that “USC and Dr. (Dennis) Kelly both deny the allegations.”

In another statement emailed to McClatchy News, the university said the settlement “provides closure for all involved and avoids several more years of litigation.”

The accusations

In 2019, six LGBTQ+ alumni of the university sued USC and Kelly, accusing the doctor of sexual misconduct during appointments at the USC Student Health Center. They also accused Kelly of discriminating against them for their sexual orientation and gender, according to a statement issued by Kellogg & Van Aken, the law firm that represented the plaintiffs.

Since then, 74 other former patients have also leveled accusations against Kelly, who worked at the facility from 1997 to 2018, the statement said. The 80 former patients say that Kelly “used his position of trust and authority as USC’s men’s health physician to engage in sexual misconduct under the guise of medical care and disproportionately targeted LGBTQ+ patients,” the statement said.

They also accused the university of failing to address complaints about Kelly’s behavior over the years and allowing Kelly to continue seeing patients without any restrictions, the statement said.

The original lawsuit, filed in 2019 on behalf of 21 of Kelly’s former patients, alleges Kelly targeted young gay and bisexual men while they were students at USC and sexually abused, harassed, and molested them during their appointments at the student health center.

The former patients accused Kelly of “questioning (their) sexual history using demeaning and derogatory terms,” demanding that they undress in front of him while he refused to leave the room, and asking them to climb onto the exam table on their hands and knees without any sort of medical gown or robe to provide privacy.

Some of the questions Kelly asked patients included “very detailed and specific” ones about whether or not they used sex toys, whether they watched internet pornography, or whether they used dating apps or “hooked up” with people they met on the internet, the lawsuit said.

He also refused to provide patients with a covering, like a gown or robe, even when patients repeatedly requested them, performed medically unnecessary “genital examinations” or “rectal examinations,” and didn’t provide a reason for the invasive practices, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleged Kelly did not treat men he knew to be heterosexual or otherwise not attracted to men, leading former patients to believe he was targeting gay and bisexual men — “all of whom were young adults and many of whom were visiting a doctor without a parent for the first time.”

The only option

Kelly was the only men’s sexual health doctor at the health center, forcing patients to seek treatment from him for any matter related to sexual health, even if they repeatedly requested to see a different doctor, the lawsuit said.

Mikayla Kellogg, one of the attorneys representing the patients, told the Los Angeles Times that USC received several complaints about Kelly throughout his employment, including one relayed to the university’s chief health officer by a senior administrator during a “face-to-face” meeting.

“Despite this complaint, USC continued to allow Dr. Kelly to see students for sensitive medical exams,” Kellogg told the outlet.

Kelly retired in 2018 and surrendered his medical license two years later, saying that he had a physical or mental condition that prevented him from practicing medicine safely, according to the Los Angeles Times.

He denied the abuse accusations against him, saying that he did everything “professionally and without any other motive,” the outlet reported.

The changes

In a statement, USC said it implemented numerous changes at its student health center, including:

  • training staff in LGBTQ+ sensitivity and trauma informed care
  • integrating the student health center into USC’s school of medicine, Keck Medicine
  • creating “new and easily accessible methods” to collect information about misconduct
  • Hired an LGBTQ+ Center advocate/educator

  • Revamped sensitive exam policy, protocol and training for medical staff

“USC’s highest commitment is to the safety and health of all members of the Trojan community, including the current and former students involved in this matter,” the statement said.

This story was originally published April 29, 2022 5:14 PM.

Vandana Ravikumar is a McClatchy Real-Time reporter. She grew up in northern Nevada and studied journalism and political science at Arizona State University. Previously, she reported for USA Today, The Dallas Morning News, and Arizona PBS.





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