Two women refuse to accept a settlement with James Heaps .
A female patient remembers like it was yesterday a visit to the UCLA office of Dr. James Heaps, a gynecologist, eight years ago. She was scheduled for a pap smear and breast exam, and there was a female chaperone in the room with them. However, as soon as the chaperone had her back turned away from the patient, “without gloves,” the doctor “began by cupping and fondling” her “breast in what seemed like an overly long exam,” she said, adding, “I thought that was a little odd,” she recalled. He then performed a pap smear, and afterwards he stroked my clitoris from top to bottom. I froze. I’d never been touched by a doctor like that. I called a friend and I told her I just got molested by my doctor.”
Heaps was stationed at the UCLA student health center and UCLA Medical Center from 1983 to 2019. In 2019, he was criminally charged with sexually abusing his patients, and that’s when the woman summoned the courage to come forward. In January, a judge approved a $73-million class-action settlement with more than 5,000 former patients indicating Heaps were touched inappropriately. In the settlement, UCLA and Heaps, 67, did not admit any wrongdoing. But the 49-year-old patient has alleged her “experience with the doctor dates back to 2013,” and is refusing to settle.
Instead, she has filed a lawsuit against both UCLA and Heaps, along with another female patient, both alleging doctor molestation. The co-plaintiff said her experience dates back to 1992. Identified as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, the women are moving forward with claims of “sexual assault, sexual battery, emotional distress and negligence.”
“There must be accountability,” said Sandra Ribera Speed, one of their attorneys. “The class action settlement approved in January might work for some victims, but others want answers.”
The settlement was also criticized by state Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), who wrote, “The deal undermines the intent of Assembly Bill 3092, which took effect January 1, and gives plaintiffs in class action cases until the end of 2021 to file lawsuits. But the settlement gives victims who want to pursue their cases separately only 90 days to do so.”
The agreement “undermines the legislation by dramatically shortening the amount of time a victim may file a case against UCLA and Dr. Heaps,” Wicks said.
John Manly, an attorney whose law firm represented more than one hundred of Heaps’ alleged victims, agreed, adding, “This is a cynical settlement to benefit class-action lawyers and the UC system. They struck this deal to avoid victims having their day in court. Given the number of potential victims, he said, the settlement could amount to only about $12,000 per person.”
The new civil litigation is separate from the criminal case, which was expanded in August 2020 after prosecutors charged the doctor with sexually abusing even more patients. The former physician is now facing up to twenty felonies and nearly seven decades in prison if he is convicted of all charges.