Gynecologist-Secret Recordings

A gynecologist affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore secretly photographed and videotaped women's bodies in the examining room, prompting a class-action lawsuit. (Associated Press)

A gynecologist who secretly used a pen-like camera to record hundreds of videos and photos of his patients' sex organs during pelvic exams will cost one of the world's most prestigious medical centres $190 million US in a settlement with more than 8,000 women.

Nikita Levy was fired in February 2013, days after a co-worker alerted authorities at Johns Hopkins Health System about her suspicions. He was forced to turn over the camera, and committed suicide days later. Investigators discovered roughly 1,200 videos and 140 images stored on a series of servers in his home.

"All of these women were brutalized by this," said the women's lead attorney, Jonathan Schochor.

"Some of these women needed counselling. They were sleepless, they were dysfunctional in the workplace, they were dysfunctional at home, they were dysfunctional with their mates."

The preliminary settlement approved by a judge Monday is one of the largest on record in the United States involving sexual misconduct by a physician. It all but closes a case that never produced criminal charges but seriously threatened Hopkins's reputation.

Police alerted

Lawyers said thousands of women were traumatized, even though their faces were not visible in the images and it could not be established with certainty which patients were recorded or how many.

Hopkins said insurance will cover the settlement. "It is our hope that this settlement — and findings by law enforcement that images were not shared — helps those affected achieve a measure of closure," the hospital statement said, adding that "one individual does not define Johns Hopkins."

Hospital authorities called Baltimore police just before Levy's firing. Police and federal investigators said they found no evidence he shared the material with others.

A class-action lawsuit on behalf of more than 8,000 of his patients who contacted lawyers was brought against Johns Hopkins last fall, alleging the hospital should have known what he was up to.

Some women told of being 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.

Levy, 54, began working at Hopkins in 1988. During his 25-year tenure, he saw roughly 12,600 patients.

Schochor said there is no way to identify which patients were recorded without having them "sit around a table and try to identify sexual organs without pictures of faces," something the lawyer said would be impossible and could cause the women more distress.

Hopkins sent out letters to Levy's entire patient list last year apologizing to the women and urging them to seek care with other Hopkins specialists.

But hundreds were so traumatized that they "dropped out of the medical system," and some even stopped sending their children to doctors, Schochor said.