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Second USC Med School Dean Resigns, This Time Over Sex Harassment Payout

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — The head of the University of Southern California's medical school resigned Thursday amid a report that about 15-years-ago, USC reached a financial settlement with a female researcher who accused him of sexual harassment.

It comes less than a year after he took over for a dean who resigned and was later the center of allegations that he smoked meth and hung out with criminals.

Dr. Rohit Varma chose to step down as dean of the Keck School of Medicine after the university "learned previously undisclosed information that caused us to lose confidence in Dr. Varma's ability to lead the school," USC Provost Michael Quick said in a letter to USC officials.

Quick didn't provide specifics. However, the announcement came as the Los Angeles Times was prepared to publish a story disclosing that USC had formally disciplined Varma in 2003 after allegations that he sexually harassed a woman researcher while he was a junior professor. The Times cited confidential personnel records and interviews with people familiar with the university investigation.

The university paid the woman more than $100,000 and temporarily blocked Varma from becoming a full member of the faculty, the Times reported.

Messages seeking comment from Varma were not immediately returned.

Varma, a noted ophthalmologist, was named dean of the medical school in November 2016. He replaced Carmen A. Puliafito, 66, who gave up his $1.1 million-a-year dean's post in the middle of the 2016 spring term, saying he wanted to explore outside opportunities. He had led the medical school for nearly a decade.

Puliafito did not mention that three weeks earlier, in March 2016, a 21-year-old woman had overdosed in his presence in a Pasadena hotel room, but recovered. A Pasadena city spokesman said no charges were filed because the overdose was not fatal.

Puliafito remained a Keck faculty member and continued to represent the university at public events as recently as this summer. USC didn't fire Puliafito until July, following a Times report that he kept company with a circle of criminals and people who used drugs and had been captured on video apparently smoking methamphetamine.

The Medical Board of California suspended Puliafito's license to practice medicine last week. Following his firing, university officials acknowledged they had received complaints and took disciplinary actions against him throughout his tenure as dean.

"Over the course of his nearly 10 years as dean, we received various complaints about Dr. Puliafito's behavior, which were addressed through university personnel procedures. This included disciplinary action and professional development coaching," USC President C.L. Max Nikias said in a July letter.

Meanwhile, at Varma's formal installation as dean in January, Nikias told the crowd: "Healing, passion and hope — these words speak to the character of our new dean."

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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