The University of Rochester will pay $9.4 million to nine former professors and students in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences who sued the institution in 2017 over its handling of sexual harassment claims against linguist Florian Jaeger, according to Science.
“We consider it a major victory for all of the faculty and students who were harassed,” says plaintiff and developmental neuroscientist Jessica Cantlon, now of Carnegie Mellon University, in remarks to Science. “It’s a significant settlement. I think it’s going to have a really powerful impact on how seriously universities take women who come forward with complaints of sexual harassment. This is something that universities will notice.”
Cantlon tells Nature that when people come forward with complaints of sexual harassment, “it’s important to take them seriously and to find resolution for them that doesn’t require people to seek justice through the court system.”
Cantlon and her fellow plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the fall of 2017 that alleged Jaeger mistreated and engaged in sexual relationships with students, all while the University of Rochester (UR) retaliated against the students and professors who spoke up about the sexually hostile environment. The allegations against Jaeger were detailed in a 2017 article by Mother Jones. Shortly thereafter, more than 300 faculty members from around the world signed an open letter criticizing the university’s handling of the sexual harassment claims.
“It is very unusual for senior professors to band together with junior faculty and students, as happened in this case, to try to protect students from harassment,” Ann Olivarius, the plaintiff’s chief lawyer, says in the statement. “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. We commend UR for improving its policies and turning the page on this very long struggle.”
Sara Miller, a spokesperson for the University of Rochester, emphasizes that no party in the settlement admitted fault, Science reports. “The university is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for its students, faculty, and staff,” she tells Science.
Steven Modica, Jaeger’s attorney, tells Inside Higher Ed that Jaeger “is very disappointed that the claims brought in the lawsuit will not be tested by the full measure of due process that is afforded by our civil litigation system,” and emphasizes that Jaeger was not a defendant in the lawsuit, nor was he involved in the settlement. A 2017 investigation of the allegations led by attorney Mary Jo White concluded that the plaintiffs’ claims would not hold up in court, reports Science.
According to the statement, “The plaintiffs are contributing a portion of the settlement to individuals whose careers were negatively affected by the hostile environment described in the lawsuit.”