The University of Rochester (U of R) is paying $9.4 million to settle a high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit that divided an esteemed department, landed two of the plaintiffs on the cover of Time magazine, and was closely watched by other institutions of higher education. The plaintiffs announced the settlement today as they issued a joint statement with the university.
The lawsuit, filed in December 2017 by nine now-former professors and students in U of R’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, alleged that the university retaliated against and defamed them after they alleged sexual harassment by linguist Florian Jaeger. Three plaintiffs also alleged that Jaeger created a sexually hostile environment. (The university has never found Jaeger guilty of sexual harassment.)
The settlement comes 7 months after the federal judge in the case upheld the legal validity, in whole or in part, of 16 of the plaintiffs’ 17 claims in the lawsuit, clearing the way for a court battle where they would have had to prove the claims were factually accurate. The university had moved to dismiss all the claims.
“We consider it a major victory for all of the faculty and students who were harassed,” says plaintiff and developmental neuroscientist Jessica Cantlon of Carnegie Mellon University. “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.
"The impact of the plaintiffs’ efforts has resulted in real improvement to the University processes. … Even the laws of New York have been positively impacted by the plaintiffs’ efforts.” (In August 2019, driven in part by the U of R case, New York state enacted sweeping changes to its sexual harassment laws.)