A lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by six former University of Southern California student alumni, all gay or bisexual, alleges that Dr. Dennis A. Kelly discriminated against and battered them while he was serving as the only full-time men’s sexual health doctor at the Engemann Student Health Center on the USC campus.
The plaintiff’s, who were identified in the court documents as ‘John Does’ to protect their privacy, claim that Kelly shamed and humiliated them for engaging in sexual acts with other men, questioned their sexual history, and used “demeaning and derogatory” terms.
Brenda Maceo, a spokesperson for USC, told the Los Angeles Blade the university’s administration including USC’s interim President Wanda M. Austin and Carol Mauch Amir, senior vice president for legal affairs and professionalism are “well aware of the lawsuit and are very concerned by its allegations.”
“We’re working to understand the facts of this matter,” Maceo said in a statement adding, “We care deeply about our entire Trojan family, including our LGBTQ community and take this matter very seriously. We will provide more information as it’s available.”
Kelly, 72, who resigned in August of 2018 after twenty years working at the student clinic as a primary care physician, denied any inappropriate behavior toward patients and called the lawsuit’s allegations “terribly hurtful.”
“I can’t second-guess or question anything I’ve done,” Kelly said in a phone interview Tuesday, February 12 with the Los Angeles Times. He added, “I know I did it all professionally and without any other motive.”
The court documents state that Kelley specifically targeted USC’s gay and bisexual and male student population, “all of whom were young adults and many of whom were visiting the doctor without a parent for the first time,” alleging he subjected to “intrusive and medically unnecessary rectal examinations.”
“Dr. Kelly did not treat heterosexual men in a similar manner and did not perform rectal examinations on heterosexual men who had similar sexual practices,” the suit claims.
Attorneys Mikayla Gow Kellogg and Kelly Van Aken of the San Francisco based law firm of Kellogg & Van Aken LLP who are representing the former USC students in a statement on the firm’s Facebook page wrote;
In the wake of news regarding Dr. George Tyndall’s abuse of female students at USC, a number of male USC graduates contacted us about disturbing allegations regarding the men’s health physician at USC’s student health center: Dr. Dennis Kelly. These individuals allege Dr. Dennis Kelly engaged in inappropriate sexual misconduct and discriminated against them because they were gay and bisexual men. Our clients have shown incredible courage in coming forward with their private and sensitive experiences with Dr. Dennis Kelly and are committed to holding USC accountable for failing to protect its students. […]
Students put their trust in USC to provide them with safe and appropriate medical care. LGBTQ students are an especially vulnerable population on college campuses. Many of the gay and bisexual men who saw Dr. Kelly were inexperienced with sexual health visits and some were seeing a doctor without a parent present for the first time. We allege that Dr. Kelly took advantage of their vulnerability and inexperience to discriminate against gay and bisexual men and/or to satisfy his own sexual interests. Despite complaints made to staff at USC, USC continued to retain Dr. Dennis Kelly as the only men’s health specialist at its student health center.
Speaking to The Times, Van Aken, said her firm was contacted by one of the plaintiffs, who in turn reached out to fellow alumni.
“They are all friends of friends who we spoke to. That’s how it all started,” Van Aken said.
Van Aken added that the plaintiffs did not formally report Kelly’s alleged behavior to USC, nor did they contact police. One plaintiff said in court papers that he complained about Kelly to another doctor at the clinic, who responded that the rectal exam “shouldn’t have happened.”
Kelly, who described himself as an openly gay physician to the paper defended his actions telling The Times that he had devoted much of his career to counseling LGBTQ patients about ways to reduce the risks of their sexual behavior.
According to Kelly, he never used the graphic terms described in the lawsuit or performed unnecessary genital exams. He said he suspected his stern warnings about behavior that put patients at risk for sexually transmitted diseases were misinterpreted as condemnation or deviance.
Before filing the suit, the lawyers reviewed the plaintiffs’ medical records and contacted experts in men’s health. The experts opined “that the totality of the circumstances in the examination room was not within the standard of care,” said attorney Mikayla Kellogg.
Reporting by the Los Angeles Times and the staff of the Los Angeles Blade