A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex on July 8, 2014, in Baltimore. / Patrick Semansky, AP
Johns Hopkins, one of the world's most prestigious medical institutions, has agreed to pay $190 million to settle claims by thousands of women against a gynecologist who used a tiny camera to surreptitiously make hundreds of videos and photos of patients.
But an attorney for the Baltimore medical center on Monday described Nikita Levy as "a rogue employee'' and said Hopkins should not be blamed for his actions.
"Just because he was an employee doesn't make Johns Hopkins responsible for what he did,'' the lawyer, Don DeVries, said at a joint news conference with the plaintiffs' lawyers. He said Hopkins agreed to settle because "we are trying to find a balance between the patients â?¦ and the interests of Johns Hopkins to provide top quality care'' in the future.
But one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Jonathan Schochor, said that Levy was acting in his capacity as a physician and that the hospital was obligated to supervise him and should have known what he was doing.
Although psychological profiling consultants suggested possibilities for why Levy might have done what he did, Schochor said, "We were given no information about what actually motivated him.''
Members of the plaintiffs' legal team said there was no evidence Levy conspired with others or shared the images, or that the hospital knew that he was secretly recording patients.
Levy was fired last year after a female co-worker came forward with her suspicions. He was forced to turn over the pen-like camera he'd used, and he committed suicide days later. Investigators discovered about 1,200 videos and 140 images stored on computer servers in his home.
The settlement approved by a judge, while preliminary, is one of the largest on record in the U.S. involving sexual misconduct by a physician.
Attorneys said about 8,500 women have signed on to the class-action lawsuit. They will be given a chance to testify before the judge about the settlement on Sept. 19. If the judge approves the settlement, each woman will be interviewed by a forensic psychologist to determine her compensation. Any woman who was examined privately by Levy is eligible to enroll in the class action; no other evidence is necessary.
Plaintiffs' lawyers said thousands of women were traumatized, even though their faces were not visible in the images and investigators were unable to positively establish which patients were recorded, or how many.
DeVries said Hopkins' insurance would cover the settlement. In a statement, the medical center said "one individual does not define Johns Hopkins."
Some female patients said they were inappropriately touched and verbally abused by Levy, according to Schochor. In some cases, women said they were regularly summoned to Levy's office for unnecessary pelvic exams.
Myra James, 67, had been going to him for annual exams for 20 years. Since his misconduct became public, she told the Associated Press, she hasn't seen a gynecologist.
"I can't bring myself to go back," James said. "You're lying there, exposed. It's violating and it's horrible, and my trust is gone. Period."
Contributing: The Associated Press
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Read the original story: $190M payout over gynecologist who secretly recorded patients