Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - A new report questions the independence of the University of Rochester's "independent investigation" into sexual harassment claims. The law firm behind the investigation was paid $4.5 million by the university and a rebuttal report of those findings released Monday said the university got exactly the results it paid for.
"The report is a fraud and it was a waste of money," said Ann Olivarius. She represents 16 women who have filed an EEOC complaint against the U of R. A case that is proceeding through the courts.
Jessica Cantlon is one of the women named in the complaint alleging a hostile work environment in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department. At the center is professor Florian Jaeger who allegedly shared drugs, sex and hot tub parties with students.
Former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White and her law firm Debevoise & Plimpton were hired by university trustees to look into the conduct of Professor Jaeger and the university's handling of sexual harassment claims against him. The results released in January revealed Jaeger did engage in "sexually harassing acts" that no student should have to deal with.
But the same report also concluded that Jaeger and the university did not break the law or even violate school rules as they existed at the time. "The acts we feel strongly were offensive, but it's the difference of what's the legal standard of what's required," White told 13 WHAM News the day her report was released.
"What she has defined Florian Jaeger's behavior to be is textbook sexual harassment," Olivarius said. "Yet she backs off of that because she's trying to defend the university."
In a lengthy rebuttal, attorneys for the women who filed the complaint said White's investigation erred when it considered each complaint separately and held it up on it's own merit. "In isolation one might say 'that doesn't look so bad.' But the law says it's the overarching pattern and the environment it produces that causes the problem," said attorney Steve Grygeil.
Mark Behan, a spokesman for Debevoise & Plimpton, said in a statement, "We stand behind our work and have no comment on the continuing litigation."
Steve Oabtadosi, who has filed his own complaint, said many students cooperated with the investigation believing it would be independent. Only to find their names released on public documents. "This was something we pointed out in the beginning. The law firm doesn't have a lot of experience in sexual harassment and there was nothing they could do other than try to exonerate the university," he said.
13 WHAM News provided the university with a copy of the rebuttal Monday morning, but have yet to receive a response.
The investigation cost about $1 million per month. President Joel Seligman resigned before the details were made public.
It suggested policy changes moving forward, but left the university and professor Jaeger legally intact. The rebuttal cited White's firm has a "long track record of using special investigations of this sort to get companies out of trouble." It also said the firm was paid $1 million a month, which bought good "crisis management" for the university, rather than the truth.
"Did they get what they paid for? They got what I think they expected and that was something that would be consistent with their defense in court," said Grygeil.
UPDATE: Late Monday afternoon 13 WHAM received the following statement from the University of Rochester:
"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."