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Sexual Harassment

U. of Rochester Will Pay $9.4 Million to Settle Long-Running Sexual-Harassment Battle U. of Rochester Will Pay $9.4 Million to Settle Long-Running Sexual-Harassment Battle By Katherine Mangan MARCH 27, 2020 PREMIUM Heather Ainsworth for The Chronicle T. Florian Jaeger (left), a professor in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at the U. of Rochester The University of Rochester has agreed to pay $9.4 million to settle a lawsuit brought

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T. Florian Jaeger (left), a professor in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at the U. of Rochester

The University of Rochester has agreed to pay $9.4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by nine former faculty members and students who had accused the New York institution of discriminating and retaliating against them in a long-running sexual-harassment dispute.

The controversy, which had engulfed the university for years, involved its handling of harassment accusations against T. Florian Jaeger, a tenured professor in the department of brain and cognitive sciences. The plaintiffs sued the university in 2017, accusing it of retaliating against and defaming them after they complained about what they said was a pattern of sexual harassment by Jaeger.

The case drew national attention as an illustration of how many lives can be affected when sexual-harassment battles break out and how some university policies can let offensive behavior go unchecked for years.

In 2018 an outside investigation largely exonerated Jaeger of violating Rochester’s sexual-misconduct policies but found him responsible for “unprofessional and inappropriate behavior” years before. That conduct included talking and joking about sex, as well as engaging in consensual intimate relationships with students at a time when those were discouraged but not banned.

Jaeger admitted that his earlier conduct had been at times immature and unwise, but he said he had been unfairly labeled a sexual predator. He returned to teaching in 2018 after a semester of paid academic leave and is teaching an undergraduate research class this spring.

Jaeger wrote, in an email late Thursday to The Chronicle, that he was glad that those who’d had the courage to complain about his behavior had been heard. “Of course, I would have preferred if I had heard about those concerns 10 years ago, but I understand that it was not obvious to others that I would have reacted appropriately,” he wrote. “I would have preferred if valid concerns about unintentionally harmful behavior would not have been contaminated by massively distorted and outright false allegations of sexual predation.”

He said he wished the university hadn’t ended a restorative-justice approach, in which he and others affected by the controversy met with an outside facilitator to discuss its impact. “I am afraid that the university’s decision to settle will not bring us any closer to a genuine dialogue,” Jaeger said.

Several of Jaeger’s former colleagues, who later left the university, said Rochester had retaliated against them for their complaints by portraying them as unreliable and making them feel unwelcome in their own department. Rochester’s president at the time, Joel Seligman, resigned amid the uproar over the university’s response to the researchers’ complaints.

On Friday the parties issued a joint statement in which the university thanked the plaintiffs for raising their concerns about sexual harassment. “The university is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for its students, faculty, and staff, and these individuals helped identify opportunities for change in university policies and procedures,” it says.

As a result, the university is better able to prevent, investigate, and remediate complaints involving “harassment and other forms of discrimination, as well as retaliation for reporting such matters,” the statement says.

“My whole lab, and the research programs that were established, were disrupted and moved across the country, and that wasn’t fair.”

Sara Miller, a University of Rochester spokeswoman, said in a separate written statement that the university was pleased with the mediated resolution, and that neither side admitted liability or fault. “The willingness of our insurance carrier to pay the entire settlement amount was a factor in our decision,” she wrote.

The steps the university has taken since the claims were filed, she wrote, include establishing an Office of Equity and Inclusion, “strengthening policies, clarifying processes, and expanding training and resources to prevent and address sexual misconduct.”

The plaintiff’s chief lawyer, Ann Olivarius, said in a news release that it was unusual for senior professors to join junior faculty members and students to protect students from harassment.

“Our clients have had to leave jobs, research collaborations, and a community they loved, and move across the country because the university dug in when it should have taken their complaints seriously,” she wrote. “We commend UR for improving its policies and turning the page on this very long struggle.”

Celeste Kidd, one of the primary complainants, is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, where she moved because of what she called the university’s retaliation against her. In 2007, Kidd was a 24-year-old graduate student who said Jaeger had invited her to rent a spare room in his apartment and then harassed her by repeatedly asking her about her sexual history.

“My whole lab, and the research programs that were established, were disrupted and moved across the country, and that wasn’t fair,” she said in an interview on Friday. She said she was pleased that the university had agreed to remove a link to the outside report that largely exonerated Jaeger and the university’s handling of the matter, because she felt it had given students the impression that what had happened to her and the other plaintiffs didn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment.

The public legal battle, she said, “allowed a lot of people who were experiencing these things around the world to reach out to me, and made me realize how common and systemic they are.”

For his part, Jaeger said removing the link to the outside investigator’s report will make it hard for students to see “a narrative of the events in which facts matter.”

In the joint statement, the plaintiffs acknowledged the steps university leaders had taken to prevent harassment, and expressed confidence that such improvements would continue.

Richard Aslin, a former dean of arts and sciences at Rochester who was among the plaintiffs, said he hoped the settlement “encourages people affected by discrimination and retaliation to seek justice and never give up.”

The plaintiffs said they would contribute part of the settlement proceeds to “individuals whose careers were negatively affected by the hostile environment described in the lawsuit.”

Katherine Mangan writes about community colleges, completion efforts, and job training, as well as other topics in daily news. Follow her on Twitter @KatherineMangan, or email her at