The federal government is investigating whether the University of Southern California concealed sexual harassment allegations made against a campus gynecologist whose behavior during pelvic examinations has prompted hundreds of complaints, officials announced Monday.
The Department of Education will investigate USC's response to allegations that Dr. George Tyndall, USC's staff gynecologist for nearly three decades, groped female students during exams and improperly photographed and made comments about the women's bodies.
Allegations against Tyndall were made as early as 1990 but USC failed to fully investigate until 2016, and the school also failed to disclose the complaints during an earlier sexual harassment investigation, according to the Department of Education.
The agency's Officer for Civil Rights is looking into possible violations of Title IX, a federal civil rights program that has been legally interpreted as requiring schools to appropriately handle reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence. If violations are found, the Department of Education can impose fines and potentially cut off USC's access to further federal funds.
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"No student should ever endure sexual harassment or abuse while trying to pursue their education," Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in the statement. "Every student on every campus should have a safe learning environment."
"We welcome the U.S. Department of Education's investigation and the university will fully cooperate with their inquiry," Rick Caruso, Chairman of the USC Board of Trustees, said in a statement.
More than two dozen lawsuits have been filed over Tyndall's alleged behavior.
Tyndall was a "serial sexual predator" who groped breasts and used his fingers to penetrate rectums and vaginas for no medically necessary purpose, attorney John Manly said in a lawsuit filed last month.
Tyndall is also accused of taking close-up photos of genitalia and commenting on the bodies of women, their race and sexual activity.
In some instances, Tyndall is accused of conducting vaginal exams without gloves when students were only seeking birth control.
Tyndall, 71, was suspended with pay in 2016 retired the next year with a financial payout from USC.
Tyndall has denied any wrongdoing and he hasn't been charged with a crime, although police are investigating allegations from dozens of women and more than 400 students made complaints through a university hotline.
The allegations have similarities with the case of Larry Nassar, the disgraced former sports doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics now serving multiple life terms in prison. Michigan State agreed to a $500 million settlement with more than 300 of his victims.
One key difference with the high-profile case involving Olympic champions, though, is that Tyndall as a gynecologist could argue his treatments were within the scope of his medical expertise, legal experts have suggested.