Lawsuit Alleges Retaliation by University in Upstate New York for Reports of Sexual Harassment

State and federal anti-discrimination laws in New York prohibit a wide range of discriminatory acts and practices, as well as acts taken in retaliation for opposing or reporting alleged discrimination. Even if an employer is found not to be liable for overt discrimination, such as New York sexual harassment, it could still be liable for retaliation against those who complained of the alleged conduct. A university in upstate New York has been embroiled in controversy for months, beginning with multiple allegations of sexual harassment against a professor and criticism of the university’s handling of complaints. While an investigation purportedly cleared the professor of wrongdoing, a lawsuit now alleges retaliation by the university and several administrators. Aslin, et al. v. University of Rochester, et al., No. 6:17-cv-06847, complaint (W.D.N.Y., Dec. 8, 2017).

Most employment anti-discrimination statutes treat sexual harassment as a type of unlawful sex discrimination. With regard to retaliation, both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law specifically identify retaliation as an unlawful practice. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a), N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(7). Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 does not specifically mention retaliation, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that retaliation for reporting alleged Title IX violations is itself an intentional act of sex discrimination. 20 U.S.C. § 1681; Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Ed., 544 U.S. 167 (2005).

The controversy that led to the Aslin lawsuit began in September 2017, when the magazine Mother Jones reported allegations of sexual harassment by a professor at the University of Rochester (UR). A group of eight individuals, consisting of current and former professors and a former graduate student, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on September 1, 2017, in which they outlined a series of alleged failures by the university to investigate the matter adequately. UR administrators stated that an internal investigation had been unable to substantiate the allegations. Toward the end of that month, UR initiated a new investigation, to be led by a former chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The university became the subject of multiple protests. One UR student went on a hunger strike to demand that the professor at the center of the allegations be fired. A group of 400 professors from around the country urged students to boycott UR. The investigation cleared both the university and the professor of legal wrongdoing in January 2018, although the eight individuals who filed the EEOC complaint were critical of how the investigation was conducted. They had filed their lawsuit in federal court in December 2017. The UR faculty senate censured the professor in February, and he is reportedly set to return to the classroom this fall.

The lawsuit focuses on alleged acts of retaliation against employees who spoke out about the professor’s alleged sexual harassment. The seven current and former professors are all asserting claims for retaliation under Title VII, Title IX, and the NYSHRL. Most are also claiming defamation per se by the UR president and provost. The former graduate student, along with two other plaintiffs, is claiming hostile work environment under Title VII and the NYSHRL.

Phillips & Associates’ sexual harassment lawyers advocate for the rights of New York City employees who have experienced unlawful workplace practices like retaliation following a complaint of sexual harassment. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today at (212) 248-7431 or online.

More Blog Posts:

New York City Lawsuit Makes Bold Allegations About Sexual Harassment Case, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 25, 2018

Nondisparagement Clauses Could Interfere with Ability to Assert New York City Sexual Harassment Claims, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 23, 2018

New York Sex Discrimination, Retaliation Claim Barred by “Ministerial Exception,” According to Second Circuit, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 18, 2018


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