USC says it's tentatively agreed to $215M settlement over gynecologist misconduct claims
The settlement would provide at least $2,500 to "all class members" -- patients who received women's health services from Tyndall -- interim USC President Wanda Austin said in a statement released Friday.
"Patients who are willing to provide further details about their experience could be eligible for additional compensation up to $250,000," Austin's statement reads.
The proposed settlement was "reached with plaintiffs' counsel," Austin said.
Tyndall served as a gynecologist at the university student health center for nearly 30 years until he was fired in 2017. He has denied any wrongdoing. He is being investigated by law enforcement authorities but has not been charged with any crime.
Who does the settlement cover?
According to attorneys that have filed state actions, the settlement applies only to the federal class-action cases. USC does not specify which cases are covered.
Gloria Allred, a lawyer for some of the women, called the payments of $2,500 per plaintiff as "way too minimal." She said the settlement applied only to the federal class-action cases and her office will continue to litigate state court lawsuits involving the university and Tyndall.
Tara Lee, a USC lawyer, said it will be at least 30 days before the two sides iron out the particulars of how the agreement will work and then present an agreement to federal Judge Stephen Wilson.
Lee says there is a potential of as many as 17,000 members of the class for this federal suit.
On Thursday, a plaintiffs' attorney said 93 additional women had come forward to accuse Tyndall of sexual misconduct in two new lawsuits.
Former, current students filed suit
The former and current USC students sued him and the university in lawsuits that first became public in May, accusing the doctor of sexual misconduct and using inappropriate language.
Some of the women alleged Tyndall conducted pelvic examinations without gloves and made racial and sexual comments while examining them.
Last July, one of his lawyers, Leonard Levine, said the examinations were for medical purposes and "consistent with the standard of care for such examinations."
CNN tried unsuccessfully to reach Levine for comment about the settlement on Friday.
USC president stepped down
Tyndall was was dismissed in 2017 for inappropriate behavior, according to USC.
University officials said the school reached a settlement with the doctor and did not report him to law enforcement or state medical authorities at the time.
The scandal led to the May resignation of school President C.L. Max Nikias. Thousands of students and alumni had signed an online petition demanding he resign.
Austin, a university board member who had served as president and CEO of the Aerospace Corp., was named interim president.
"I regret that any student ever felt uncomfortable, unsafe or mistreated in any way as a result of the actions of a university employee," Austin said, according to the statement released Friday.
She asked for a drug to treat her miscarriage. The pharmacist refused to give it to her because of his religion
Then the pharmacist made things worse.
Peterson says back in July a pharmacist at a Meijer pharmacy in Petoskey, Michigan, refused to fill her prescription for a drug to treat her miscarriage because of his religious beliefs. She's working with the American Civil Liberties Union to change Meijer's policy and is willing to go to court if need be to keep what happened to her from happening to another woman.
Peterson, of Ionia, Michigan, was out of town and away from the pharmacy that she usually uses, so she called the pharmacy at Meijer, a 230-store grocery chain located in six Midwestern states. She was initially told that the prescription her doctor had called in would be filled. But then the pharmacist there called back and said he wouldn't fill it.
"The pharmacist called me and said that he could not in good conscience fill this medication because he was a good Catholic male and could not support an abortion," Peterson told CNN.
She explained to the pharmacist that she needed the drug, misoprostol, because she'd had a miscarriage (the fetus' heart had stopped beating). Misoprostol, also known by the brand name Cytotec, is often used to treat miscarriages. If it's combined with mifepristone, a drug often called the "abortion pill," it can terminate an early pregnancy.
"He didn't believe me and said that he would still not give me the medication," Peterson said.
She asked to speak to another pharmacist; he said no other pharmacist was there. She asked to speak with a manager; he said there was no manager their to speak with. She asked whether the prescription could be transferred to another pharmacy. He said no. Peterson said she felt bullied.
"It was very difficult to deal with when you're in a really bad state of mind already. And then to have someone who doesn't believe you and not to have any empathy ... that really is difficult to comprehend," she said. "It could have severely affected me mentally and physically not to get the medication."
She was able to have the prescription filled later at her regular pharmacy in Ionia.
Reaching out for help
Once she returned home, Peterson started doing research, wondering whether her rights had been violated.
"If this is happening to me is it happening more to other people," she thought.
Peterson later talked to a regional manager at Meijer about it and was told the pharmacist was on personal leave and an investigation had been started. She filed a formal complaint with Meijer's corporate office, but never heard back.
"I would really like to hear from Meijer's to hear what their plans are moving forward and having clear policies in place so that their customers are aware of specific store policies and their rights," she said.
So now she's reached out to the ACLU, which sent a letter of complaint to Meijer on her behalf, hoping it can force the grocery chain to change its policy and make sure its enforced.
"Meijer's practice of allowing its pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions and decline to transfer them is discriminatory and violates Michigan's public accommodations laws," the ACLU said in a statement earlier this week. "Meijer must implement a policy to ensure that all customers in the future receive their medication without undue delay regardless of the personal beliefs of its pharmacists."
Meijer said it had investigated Peterson's allegations but couldn't discuss them publicly because of state and federal privacy laws. It also reiterated its policies.
"A pharmacist may refuse to fill a prescription based upon religious beliefs. However, our procedure requires the prescription to then be filled by another pharmacist in the store," Meijer said in a statement. "If no other pharmacist is available, the pharmacist must consult with the patient to arrange for the transfer of the prescription to another pharmacy that is convenient to them. This is consistent with the American Pharmacy Association and the Michigan Pharmacy Association Guidelines. A pharmacist who fails to follow this procedure, is in violation of our process."
The pharmacist, whom Meijer declined to identify, has not been employed by the grocery chain since July, it said.
It also offered an apology.
"While we cannot comment on any pharmacy customer matter, we apologize for any customer experience that does not align with our core values," Meijer said.
Peterson said if the ACLU complaint doesn't achieve the desired results, she would be willing to file a lawsuit.
Veteran battling suicidal thoughts opens horse ranch to help military families
Inside the property's barn, however, owner Sam Rhodes is lost in thought. He quietly points to a plaque on one of the stall doors. It's a small memorial to one of the soldiers who helped Sam on the ranch.
"He was helping me for two years," he said.
Sadly, that soldier's story ended like far too many people Rhodes has known over the years - in suicide.
It's a reminder of why Rhodes started this ranch and why he devotes all of his free time to it.
Digging out of the trenches
Rhodes joined the army in 1980 and served for 29 years. He deployed on three combat tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom and rose through the ranks, retiring as command sergeant major.
Rhodes experienced a lot of trauma.
"Seeing a soldier bleeding on you or trying to fight for his life..." Rhodes slowly recalled. "There's a lot of reasons that we can't sleep at night."
Rhodes was proud to serve and fight for his country, but when he came back home between tours, he realized something wasn't right.
"I wanted to go back to war so bad so I can be back in my safety zone. I'd love to be in Iraq right now because I'm good there."
He had trouble sleeping and re-adjusting. He even began tying himself to his bed at night to prevent sleepwalking.
"Most veterans would tell you right now, you put them in combat and let them do their thing, they are good to go. I didn't want to be here. I wanted to go back."
In 2005, Rhodes was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. Eventually, his condition led to suicidal thoughts.
"I had a gun. I was getting ready to take my own life."
He received counseling but Rhodes credits something else for the change in his disposition -- his stepdaughter's horse.
"Cleaning stalls, putting up fences, it made me feel like I had a purpose in life. It's amazing how it really got me to calm down a little bit."
"My natural instinct is to say, 'How can I take what I just learned and help other people?' "
Riding for a cause
In 2008, Rhodes started building out his horse ranch and created Warrior Outreach, a non-profit that provides free access to horses for veterans and their families.
Vets and their families can come here to learn to ride and groom horses, host kids' birthday parties or just get a moment of solitude on the ranch trails.
"It started as an idea to get people exposed to horses and get them to understand just how much it helps."
Horses have been used for other therapeutic reasons. They've helped people with spinal cord injuries and autism.
For Rhodes, caring for the ranch and its 17 horses has helped keep his mind busy.
"I want structure. I want a routine. I had that in combat."
But it hasn't cured him.
"I still have depression. Life's not easy."
Perhaps the biggest thing Warrior Outreach has provided Rhodes and the others vets is a sense of community.
Michael Christensen, Sergeant 1st Class in the US Army, first came here for a kid's birthday party. Now, he volunteers around the ranch and brings his own children to ride.
"Guys can come out here, especially if they are having a rough go at it, and just kind of forget about what's going on in the real world. The fact that we can network and just say, 'Anytime you need something, here's my number, call me.' It builds a network of veterans that can help each other," Christensen said.
Rhodes has expanded Warrior Outreach's work beyond the ranch. They've already completed 38 home assistance repairs for veterans and their families this year.
All of it fueled by donations and volunteer work.
Rhodes, who still works full time, says he can't imagine life now without the Warrior Outreach ranch.
"I think that's what's keeping me going. This is my counselor, all these families."
He's made it his mission to bring as many other vets and their families to the ranch as possible because he's seen what a difference it can make.
"Vets come out here and say, 'Hey, you saved my life.' It's well worth it."