“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,” lead attorney Ann Olivarius said in a written statement.
The private university in upstate New York said in a statement that it did not admit fault as part of the mediated resolution. It said the willingness of its insurance carrier to pay the entire settlement amount was a factor in its decision.
The plaintiffs, led by former Assistant Professor Celeste Kidd, sued over the university's handling of concerns raised in 2017 involving T. Florian Jaeger, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences who remains on the university faculty.
Jaeger was accused of flaunting sexual relationships with students and using uncomfortable sexual innuendo that created a hostile work environment. University investigations, while calling Jaeger's behavior unprofessional and offensive, found he had not violated policy that existed at the time, nor the law.
Those who raised the complaints were excluded from departmental meetings, given burdensome or unusual workloads and “generally shunned by colleagues,” their lawsuit said. The case, which came at the height of the #MeToo movement, sparked student protests and led to the resignation of university President Joel Seligman in January 2018. Kidd and a colleague were included among the “silence breakers” named as Time magazine’s 2017 persons of the year.
Jaeger was not named in the lawsuit settled Friday. His attorney said Jaeger was disappointed that the claims would not be fully litigated. “He believes sincerely that, had these claims been tested," attorney Steven Modica said, "the court would have reached the same conclusion” as a university-commissioned investigation that found Jaeger's conduct did not constitute sexual harassment.
Since the claims were filed, the University of Rochester has strengthened its policies and training to prevent and address sexual misconduct, spokeswoman Sara Miller said. “The last few years have been challenging for everyone at the university, and we now face significant additional challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “We can now put this particular issue behind us, focus on our present concerns, and look ahead to the future.”
Like many universities, Rochester has moved classes online and canceled commencement as part of efforts to slow the spread of the virus.