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EEOC complaint alleges sexual harassment by UR professor

An equal employment opportunity commission (EEOC) complaint filed by a collection of University of Rochester staff alleges years of sexual misconduct from a professor in the school’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS).

The complaint—a 113-page document filed by Dr. Richard Aslin, Dr. Celeste Kidd, Dr. Jessica Cantlon, Dr. Steven Piantadosi, Dr. Brad Mahon, Dr. Ben Hayden, Dr. Elissa Newport and Dr. Keturah Bixby—alleges that Dr. T. Florian Jaeger has engaged in years of sexual misconduct and harassment since joining the university in 2007. The complaint characterizes Jaeger as a “narcissistic and manipulative sexual predator,” alleging he used his status as a high-ranking faculty member to sexually harass students.

The list of allegations against Jaeger is long and detailed, insinuating a long-standing pattern of sexually manipulative behavior utilizing his position of authority as leverage. The complaint states that in March 2007, just three months on the job, Kidd, interviewing with Jaeger for the Ph.D. Program at BCS, experienced a slew of inappropriate advances and Facebook messages from the professor.

Specifically, Kidd claims that, during her interview, Jaeger began flirting with her before inviting her to a graduate student party. Kidd did not attend, but was greeted with numerous after-midnight Facebook messages from Jaeger. This pattern allegedly continued that same month, when Kidd attended a conference in San Diego, where Jaeger was present. Kidd alleges that, upon seeing Jaeger engage intimately with a fellow Ph.D. candidate, she expressed her discomfort to Jaeger via Facebook messages. Jaeger insisted that the university had approved his relationship, according to the complaint. In further interactions, Kidd claims that Jaeger had implied that the university might even be “enthusiastic” about student-professor relationships.

According to the University of Rochester’s faculty handbook, sexual or intimate relationships between faculty and students of which they have academic authority is strictly forbidden.

In coming months as Kidd relocated to Rochester, primarily to work with Aslin, a lack of funds ultimately resulted in Jaeger offering to rent his spare room to Kidd at a low rate. Kidd accepted, and in her time there described a slew of inappropriate behavior, including Jaeger going through her personal belongings, walking into her room unannounced and browsing through her mail.

The complaint alleges a pattern of developing a “cult-like” dynamic between Jaeger and his pupils in his first few years at the university. This included weekly meetings at Rochester’s Lux Lounge, hot tub parties at his home and a “lab retreat” in the Adirondacks fueled by hallucinogens and alcohol, which allegedly culminated in the hospitalization of one of Jaeger’s partners.

The complaint continues to describe that, as Jaeger’s tenure at the university continued, his behavior became more extreme. He is characterized as manipulating students by claiming sex with him was the only path to career advancement, invasion of Kidd’s privacy by showing up unannounced to her dates and offered academic favoritism to graduate students he slept with, which the complaint alleges were numerous.

The complaint also argues that students who refused Jaeger, including Kidd, were susceptible to social and academic sabotage by his hands. Kidd, for example, said that, upon refusing Jaeger’s advances, he spread word that she was a compulsive liar and that they had a sexually intimate relationship to faculty and fellow students. Kidd claims both of these statements are false.

Filed on Sept. 1, the complaint received more widespread attention as Kidd related her story to online magazine Mother Jones, prompting a response from the university, which had previously done an investigation into Jaeger. In the Friday, Sept. 8 statement, the university argued that the complaint is based primarily on hearsay, and their own investigation was unable to substantiate any of the claims.

“We are highly confident in the integrity of these investigations—we followed our processes for fair investigations and due process for all involved, interviewing dozens of witnesses whose names were given to us as alleged victims,” the statement reads. “Through two separate investigations—one by an internal investigator and one conducted by an external investigator—no violation of the law or University policy was found.”

The university, named as a defendant in the EEOC complaint for alleged inaction toward Jaeger, is reviewing the document and preparing a response.

One comment

  1. It is disappointing that this type of behavior continues today. It is shameful that the University of Rochester doesn’t respond more forcefully.

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