Back in 2017, I wrote about this awful sexual harassment case at the University of Rochester that involved in particular, one professor, T. Florian Jaeger, who was egregiously out of line with students, but also involved an entire university administration that was outrageous in how it supported Jaeger against all reason. There was a lawsuit. There was a countersuit. It dragged on for years, but now, at last, there has been a settlement, in favor of the victims.
In 2017, 9 faculty and students filed a sexual-harassment and retaliation suit against the University of Rochester. We have now settled our case.
We made sure we could tell our story afterwards. That is rare.
Here is what happened and why we did it:
— Neuro Polarbear (@NeuroPolarbear) March 27, 2020
I feel for them, having just gone through a lesser suit that dragged us through the courts for an absurdly long time, and was finally settled just recently. There seems to be no such thing as a speedy trial in these civil suits.
One big difference, though, is that the University of Rochester settled for the amount of $9.4 million. We’re still struggling to pay off our legal debt.
One similarity is that we also retained the right to tell our story, and that does make a difference. UR has really taken a major and deserved hit here, and the whole sordid story is available online. It’s horrifying reading: Jaeger was worse than I imagined, the University was complicit, and the university president did everything he could to enable Jaeger and punish his victims.
Plaintiffs were surprised at the University’s tight embrace and protection of Jaeger and the intense retaliation campaign against them. They could not figure out why UR was so determined to support a serial sexual predator who had caused misery to students and colleagues.
Over time, however, it has become clear that the University’s approach to Jaeger and Plaintiffs fits into a broader pattern of University behavior. UR is a major force in Rochester, the largest private employer in upstate New York, and used to getting its way. Its president is a powerful figure, and after 12 years in office, Seligman has restructured the University to his liking. Faculty and administrators describe him as thin skinned, “someone who always thinks he’s the smartest person in the room,” and, as his tenure has extended, increasingly imperious. He has expanded the ranks of administrators and appointed people to top positions (many times without a search process) who, according to many faculty, will no longer stand up to him or tell him when he is making a mistake.
The settlement wouldn’t have been so large if the University of Rochester hadn’t opened itself up to guilt with it’s horrible behavior.
Jaeger’s behavior created a working environment that was severe, pervasive, intimidating, hostile, and offensive to Cantlon and other female employees in the department.
Through its failures and treatment of Cantlon and others who complained about sexual harassment and discrimination as adversaries, UR contributed to and exacerbated the hostile working environment for female employees. It gave license to its employees, including DeAngelis and other faculty, to treat Cantlon and other female employees, or employees associated with this group via their complaints, with hostility and disdain.
The hostile environment based on sex created a hostile and intimidating work environment for Cantlon and interfered with her ability to do her job to the point that she began to look for other work
There’s more. A lot more. This statement by the court is satisfactorily scathing, and also explains why this decision was so important.
The false statements made by UR, Seligman and Clark seriously call into question the Plaintiffs’ fitness for their profession. As academics and research scientists, the Plaintiffs must be seen to have integrity and to be utterly trustworthy. Honest and integrity are crucial characteristics in their profession for at least the following reasons:
a. Research scientists rely heavily on grants to fund their work. An applicant’s scientific integrity, a concept inextricably tied to honesty, must be beyond question. If a grant-making body thought that a researcher was capable of making up evidence – as UR has accused the Plaintiffs of doing – the grant-making body would never support that researcher.
b. Similarly, the scientific community and publishers must be able to trust in the integrity of the researcher’s work. If the researcher’s scientific integrity or honest is questionable, publishers are unlikely to select their work for publication and institutions are unlikely to invite that researcher to give talks or present at conferences. Publishing and presenting work are both essential components of any academic career.
c. Labs need high quality Ph.D. students and post-docs to contribute to faculty members’ research. Choosing a lab is a big decision for these students and post-docs – where they work and who they work for can have a profound effect on their own careers. They are unlikely to work in the lab of someone who is considered to be dishonest or to have a history of bullying others.
d. Serving on committees or in other leadership roles in departments or throughout the University is another key part of an academic career. These opportunities are key to obtaining leadership positions and building a good reputation. Failing to do any service for one’s department or university reflects poorly on an academic’s reputation and suitability for the profession. The Plaintiffs have been accused of dishonesty, bullying, and manipulation. They have been barred from serving on committees or as ombudspersons because they are not trusted to be honest and unbiased.
As academics and research scientists, honesty and integrity are essential to Plaintiffs’ professional success. Provost Clark, President Seligman, and UR knew this when each false statement referenced was made.
Despite winning the case (strictly speaking, they settled, the UR has not admitted guilt), this was not a happy outcome. The plaintiff’s careers were hurt, they had to leave and put down roots elsewhere, it had to have been agony having this hang over their heads for so long. They sacrificed to get this result.
Q. Do you recommend someone in a similar situation file a lawsuit?
The legal route is grueling, exhausting, and costly. We all had to leave our homes and start over from scratch. We do not recommend it unless it is the only remaining option.
— Neuro Polarbear (@NeuroPolarbear) March 27, 2020
The University of Rochester is going to have to cough up $9.4 million dollars. On top of that, who knows how many grants they’ve lost because of this action? They’ve definitely lost much of their prestige, their cognitive science program was climbing the rankings as one of the best in the nation. If one of my students was planning to apply there, I’d strongly urge them to consider any place other than UR.
T. Florian Jaeger is still employed at the university, and wasn’t targeted by the lawsuit at all. The piece of shit sailed through the whole thing without getting stepped on.
I don’t understand that at all.