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UR researchers file detailed rebuttal to independent investigator's report on harassment allegations

Feb 5, 2018

The University of Rochester researchers who are embroiled in a legal battle with the university over allegations of sexual harassment have filed a lengthy rebuttal to a report issued last month as part of an independent investigation.

Credit University of Rochester

The attorneys for the faculty and grad students who filed a complaint mainly involving the behavior of a professor at the U of R’s Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department have already said they didn’t think much of that more than 200-page report compiled by Mary Jo White. 

But through their lawyers, the researchers who have filed a federal lawsuit are now offering a more detailed rebuttal.

According to lead attorney Ann Olivarius the report only confirms some of the issues the people filing the suit have already talked about…and she says the university already has spent at least $4.5 million on the outside investigation, and there will be more legal costs on the way.

“The court battle is going to cost, probably five to seven million dollars, we’re going to win that, but even if we didn’t win it it’s still going to cost them that kind of money, it’s going to produce huge turmoil at the school when we do discovery, we have lots of discovery to go through, that’s going to rip the school apart for years.”

Among other things, the rebuttal says that the Mary Jo White report is wrong to absolve the university from legal liability for misconduct by Professor Florian Jaeger.

That report did find that Jaeger previously engaged in inappropriate behavior, but did not find that he violated university policy. A spokesman for Mary Jo White’s law firm says that they stand behind their work, but have no comment on the continuing litigation.

Jaeger had earlier said that the findings of the investigation confirmed that he did not sexually harass any students, and did not violate the policies of the University. But he agreed that he “could have shown more maturity” when he first joined the faculty in 2007.

UR officials released this statement after the rebuttal from the complainants was released:

The University is moving forward on implementing the recommendations of the White Report and making sure that our policies and procedures reflect best practices and that our campus climate is respectful and welcoming. This progress is essential to the wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff who want nothing more than to focus on their purpose at the University.

This latest document from McAllister Olivarius is yet another attempt to litigate this matter in the media and to repeat false allegations. In so doing, this law firm is distracting the University from its efforts to create meaningful change, both in practice and culture. McAllister Olivarius should let the legal process – a process that they initiated – play out through the courts.

The University has recently undertaken in earnest several actions in response to the report, including:

  • the launch of a website “Cultivating a Culture of Respect,” which will regularly update progress on implementing report recommendations and other efforts to improve climate;
  • a new Board of Trustees committee to oversee implementation and compliance with deadlines;
  • working with the Faculty Senate and the Commission on Women and Gender Equity in Academia as they develop their own recommendations;
  • laying the groundwork for a new Cabinet-level role to strengthen and coordinate activities across campus related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

We also look forward to hearing from the Student Task Force to Review Sexual Misconduct Policy, which is planning to publish their own set of recommendations next month.

Steven Modica, the attorney for Professor Florian Jaeger, who was accused of sexual harassment by the UR researchers, issued this response to the rebuttal on Monday:

The Complainants’ allegations have been largely discredited by three separate investigations over the past two years. Each investigation has shown how the Complainants have distorted the record, manipulated facts, and provided selective documentation to support their allegations.

The most recent investigation, led by Mary Jo White, relied on interviews with 140 people and 6,000 documents to reach its findings. The White investigation discovered that the Complainants in this case manipulated evidence to support a false narrative.

Early in his career, my client Florian Jaeger had consensual relationships with four adult women. None of them are complainants; all have stated repeatedly that they willingly took part in the relationships. Dr. Jaeger was not in a supervisory role over any of them.

Two of the women with whom my client had consensual relationships criticized the way they were portrayed in the complaint.   One of these women objected to how she was portrayed in writing and before the EEOC complaint was published.   Complainants ignored her objection.

The Complainants claim to be on a mission to protect women in the sciences, however, their actions speak to a different agenda. They demean, dismiss or outright shame any woman who chooses to work with my client.

The Complainants’ rebuttal of the Report of the Independent Investigations comes on the same day the University will respond to their lawsuit in federal court. This rebuttal is a public relations document, aimed at diverting attention from the facts and their agenda. We look forward to an examination of the evidence in federal court. We hope that the media gives the same attention to that process as it has to the accusations.