The number of former and current USC students suing the university and its former men's sexual health doctor has more than tripled, from six to 21, according to an amended lawsuit filed on Monday. The lawsuit alleges 15 counts of damages, including sexual battery, sexual harassment and negligent hiring.
All plaintiffs were described in the lawsuit as "young gay and bisexual men, and men whose sexual partners were men." Nineteen of them file anonymously under the name "John Doe" and two are named in the suit. The lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges that former USC men's sexual health doctor Dr. Dennis A. Kelly engaged in "shaming, humiliating, and judging" behavior toward the plaintiffs "for engaging in sexual acts with men."
Kelly also allegedly asked detailed questions about the plaintiffs' sexual history, insisted on genital and rectal examinations without justification and did not provide robes or other covering for privacy during exams despite the plaintiffs' requests.
Graphic allegations in the lawsuit include Kelly "penetrating Plaintiffs' anuses with his finger(s) and/or medical devices without any legitimate medical purpose." The suit alleges that Dr. Kelly was targeting the gay and bisexual male students "for no other reason than to satisfy his own prurient sexual desire and/or to shame, humiliate, and embarrass plaintiffs as a result of their sexual orientation and sexual practices."
The allegations are the latest against doctors at USC Engemann Student Health Center. Over 200 complaints of sexual misconducts have been filed against the former USC campus gynecologist George Tyndall since last May. The university has filed a $215-million settlement compensate any patients treated by Tyndall in his 29-year career.
During the time in which the alleged incidents involving Kelly occurred, he was the only male sexual health doctor at the student health center. According to an email Kelly sent to his patients last summer announcing his resignation from the student health center, his last office day was July 25. Kelly said in the email that he worked "almost 20 years at USC Student Health."
Annenberg Media reached out to Kelly via a phone call and email on Wednesday but did not receive a response by the time of publication. Prior attempts to reach Kelly via email and a visit to an address believed to be his home were also unanswered.
Kelly has previously denied all allegations related to the suit. In February, the Los Angeles Times reported that "Kelly said he was an openly gay physician and that he had devoted much of his career to counseling LGBTQ patients about ways to reduce the risks of their sexual behavior." In the same story, he told the Times, "I know I did it all professionally and without any other motive."
The lawsuit also blames USC for neglecting students' complaints against Kelly and for negligent supervision. In a statement to Annenberg Media on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the university said USC is "concerned" by the allegations in the lawsuit and is "working across the university to understand the facts."
"We care deeply about our entire Trojan family," the statement said, "including our LGBTQ+ community, and take this matter very seriously."
Ali Jalal-Kamali, one of the two named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, is a current international Ph.D. student at USC. He said he had an appointment with Kelly around September 2017 to get pre-exposure prophylaxis medication, also known as PrEP, a medicine for lowering the risk of getting HIV. He said that Kelly insisted he get tested for sexually transmitted infections and asked "invasive, uncomfortable and inappropriate questions" regarding his "sexual history and experiences."
The lawsuit includes explicit examples of Kelly's alleged questions to Jalal-Kamali during his medical exam, such as "whether anyone has ever 'licked [his] *ss, 'put a finger or toy there' or whether anyone has ever 'teased their p*n*s' around his anus."
According to the lawsuit, Jalal-Kamali had an appointment with Kelly again in November of 2017 for concerns about possible exposure to a sexually transmitted infection. He said Kelly gave him a genital exam without offering any reasoning and then insisted on performing a rectal exam.
"Plaintiff Jala-Kamali felt so uncomfortable that he refused to allow the rectal examination to be performed," the lawsuit states.
In a follow-up appointment in the spring of 2018, Jalal-Kamali said he felt he was being shamed by Kelly again. "Dr. Kelly further made the process of obtaining PrEP so complicated and uncomfortable that Plaintiff Jala-Kamali decided to pursue getting the medication at a health care facility other than USC."
Allen Pearcy Galeana, the second plaintiff named in the lawsuit and an undergraduate student at USC, had an appointment with Kelly in 2015 to get a male sexual health exam. The suit alleges that in addition to asking Pearcy Galeana "a series of invasive and uncomfortable questions regarding his sexual history and experiences, including whether he had sex with men, how many partners he had, the age group of his partners, whether he used dating apps, and the specific details about sexual acts in which he engaged," Kelly "also provided unsolicited instruction on how to perform sexual acts, including oral and anal sex."
The lawsuit was first filed on Feb. 11 by the law firm Kellogg & Van Aken LLP, representing six former USC students under the name "John Doe."
On February 13, in interviews with Annenberg Media, recent USC graduate Buck Andrews and current USC student Roy Pankey, who is also a reporter for our publication, recounted how they stopped going to the doctor after being shamed by Kelly.
After seeing Annenberg Media's February coverage of the lawsuit, a current undergraduate student reached out to share his own experiences. The student, who identifies himself as a gay male and has not come out, asked to speak anonymously. Because the information he shared involves his personal medical information and his sexual orientation, Annenberg Media is honoring his request, in accordance with our ethics policy.
The student said his experience with Kelly was, in general, positive. He said the first time he visited Kelly was in November of 2017, for a PrEP prescription. He said he saw Kelly once every three months, the typical frequency of visits for patients on PrEP. "He was a very serious man," the student said. "Every time when I was talking to him, it was like I was talking to a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website."
The student said that when Kelly administered an STD test and anal exam, they were quick and nothing seemed amiss. He was not offered a robe or other covering.
He said Kelly told him hooking up would have health-related risks and asked him whether he wanted to find a stable relationship. "Although I could not remember exact phrase he was saying, I didn't feel I was being judged by him," he said. "I think it's normal doctor feedback."
Since Kelly's departure last summer, the student health center has shifted its approach to men's sexual health, hiring four new doctors who will incorporate that work into their practice instead of hiring a specialized men's sexual health doctor, according to USC Chief Student Health Officer Sarah Van Orman.
"Five to ten years ago, STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections) screening, particularly the prescription of PrEPs, was very specialized. Only people would prescribe it would be an infectious disease doctor or a doctor really specialized in that area," she said. "Now, PrEP is something actually widely prescribed and widely utilized. There are a lot of general family medicine doctors and adolescent doctors who are very comfortable with routinely prescribe PrEP."
Van Orman said while there won't be a doctor dedicated to men's sexual health, the newly hired doctors- Dr. Anne Michels, Dr. Deirdre Logan, Dr. Erin Jones and Dr. Vladimir Ayvazyan- along with Dr. Vejas Skipkus, Dr.Karel Kooper and Dr. Heather Needham at Engemann Student Health Center are comfortable making STI diagnoses and prescribing PrEP.
In that interview, conducted on Feb. 20, Van Orman declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. She said she is committed to ensuring that students feel comfortable receiving medical care at Engemann Student Health Center. "It's very important for us to have a full range service for every student, including LGBTQ students, so we are going to continue to evaluate whether we meet students' needs. I want to hear feedback from students."
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