BALTIMORE — Maria Lennon said she felt some relief when she heard the news Friday afternoon: A judge had finalized a $190 million settlement between Johns Hopkins Hospital and more than 8,000 patients of a gynecologist who used tiny cameras to secretly photograph women and girls during examinations.
Lennon had visited that gynecologist, Dr. Nikita Levy, for 15 years, and could receive some of the money. But for Lennon and many others, no monetary award can erase the ongoing shock, grief and fear.
"I feel vindicated," Lennon said Friday. "But my nightmares aren't going to go away."
Levy was fired from Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore in February 2013, after a female co-worker spotted the pen-like camera he wore around his neck and alerted authorities to her suspicions that he was using it to record his patients. Levy committed suicide days later, following a raid on his home that uncovered roughly 1,200 videos and 140 images stored on his home computers. No criminal charges were filed, after authorities determined that Levy did not share or distribute the images.
The Associated Press does not typically name possible victims of sexual abuse, but Lennon and others agreed to be identified.
Attorneys filed the class-action lawsuit last October, alleging that Johns Hopkins should have known about Levy's misconduct and put a stop to it. Hopkins agreed to a $190 million settlement in July, and Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Sylvester Cox approved the agreement Friday.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked for 35 percent of the settlement. The judge is expected to rule on the request after a hearing next month. The settlement funds are expected to be paid by an insurer.
Lawyers said is impossible to determine which of Levy's 12,500 patients were photographed because the images do not show their faces. As a result, all of Levy's former patients are considered plaintiffs in the case. Lawyers said between 8,000 and 9,500 signed up to join the suit.
The women's lead attorney Jonathan Schochor said he believes it is the largest single-perpetrator sexual abuse case on record.
"This result is truly historic, groundbreaking, unprecedented and extraordinary," Schochor said. "These women didn't run. They were brave. And now they're recognized as a very, very serious force in this city and all cities across the United States.
"We proved that this conduct will not be tolerated," Schochor said, "and that their damages will not be trivialized."
In 44 days the funds will be placed in an interest-bearing account and a team of attorneys, psychologists and psychiatrists will begin evaluating the women, who will each be placed into one of four categories based on trauma level. Those categories will dictate how much money each woman will receive. Lawyers said they hope to complete the evaluation process within a year.
Schochor and Howard Janet, another attorney working on the case, said women told of Levy asking them to strip naked on the examination table and administering pelvic exams without gloves, among other instances of what Schochor calls "boundary violations."
"His examinations have been described as sexual in nature and not clinical," Schochor said, adding that many former patients told him that Levy would become "irate" if they tried to find a different doctor.
Lennon said throughout her years as Levy's patient, she'd always found him to be inappropriate and rude but didn't realize that what he was doing was wrong. Now, Lennon said, she is traumatized.
"I still feel eerie when I go to the GYN," Lennon said. "When I think about it I get chill bumps and want to throw up. Do I need to take a security guard to the gynecologist? Maybe I do."
Everlena Gaylord, 48, went to Levy for 24 years. Gaylord said she always thought of him as professional and caring, and even entrusted him with her three daughters' care. On Friday, Gaylord said revelations of his misconduct devastated her, but the settlement is the first step on a long road to recovery.
"When I found out I was shocked, I was frustrated, I was depressed," Gaylord said. "I'm happy, but emotionally I'm still in the healing process. My trust is completely broken with doctors, male and female. I just have to take it one day at a time."
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