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USC Settles Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Brought by Gay and Bi Men

University of Southern California
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Former USC students, mostly gay and bisexual men, alleged they were abused by a university doctor.

A settlement has been reached between the University of Southern California and the former students, many of them gay and bisexual men, who say they were victims of sexual misconduct by a university doctor.

Kellogg & Van Aken LLP, the law firm representing the claimants, announced the settlement Thursday. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, and neither USC nor Dr. Dennis Kelly admitted to any wrongdoing.

The firm filed suit three years ago on behalf of six male USC graduates, all members of the LGBTQ+ community, who alleged that Kelly had engaged in sexual misconduct and discriminatory behavior during their appointments with him at the Los Angeles-based school's Student Health Center. Another 74 people eventually sued over the matter. Only four of the plaintiffs identified as heterosexual, the others being members of the queer community, including one transgender woman, attorney Mikayla Kellogg told the Los Angeles Times.

The plaintiffs said Kelly's misconduct centered on their sexual orientation (Kelly has denied all the accusations). They claimed that when the doctor learned they had sex with men, he "asked a series of intrusive, prurient questions, such as how much pornography they consumed and whether they 'hooked up' with sexual partners online," the Times reports. They also said Kelly asked about their specific sexual practices and performed unnecessary rectal and genital examinations on them, according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Kellogg told the Times the university had received complaints about Kelly over his two decades at the USC clinic but continued to let him perform sensitive exams on students.

Kelly, who is gay, retired from USC in 2019 and gave up his medical license in 2020. When surrendering his license, he did not cite the misconduct claims but told the Medical Board of California he had a health condition that interfered with his ability to practice medicine safely. He has called the allegations against him "terribly hurtful" and said he always acted professionally, the Times reports.

"I am glad that the complaints have been dismissed and to put this matter behind me," he said in a statement to NBC News. "I did nothing wrong."

But Kellogg, in her firm's press release, said the settlement offers the plaintiffs "a sense of recognition and validation for speaking up." It "was achieved through the persistence and bravery of our clients who had the strength to come forward to share the harrowing details of their experiences at the USC Student Health Center and the determination to hold USC accountable for its failure to protect its students," she said.

The confidentiality of the settlement contrasts with the handling of claims against Dr. George Tyndall, who was accused of sexually abusing many women patients at USC. The university last year announced that settlements with his accusers totaled more than $1 billion and issued statements of apology. Tyndall is also facing criminal charges. Asked by the Times why the Kelly settlement remained confidential, a USC spokesperson declined comment.

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