A University of Georgia professor was suspended for two weeks without pay and placed under certain restrictions in May after a UGA Equal Opportunity Office investigation found the professor in violation of university policies, EOO records show.
An April EOO Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy Report details the investigation into John Seaman, a research professor of biogeochemistry and assistant director of UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. The Red & Black acquired the report through an open records request.
The allegations were made by a former post-doctoral research associate, Jane Smith, who no longer works at UGA. Smith worked under Seaman at the SREL, which is located in Aiken, South Carolina. Smith was hired in spring 2015 as a post-doctoral research associate in the SREL.
Editor’s Note: The Red & Black does not name people who report sexual harassment without their consent. Jane Smith is a fake name used to protect the identity of the person.
Based on its investigation, EOO found a preponderance of evidence, meaning it was more likely than not that:
- Seaman found Smith attractive and said as much to other SREL employees
- Seaman told Smith she should wear a skirt more often
- Seaman initiated “private, non-work-related” social interactions with Smith, but did not do so with other employees under his supervision
- Seaman frequently stopped by Smith’s office, sat next to her when possible and incidentally touched her when speaking to her
- Seaman tried to kiss or otherwise touch Smith when they were alone outside of Grumpy’s Sports Pub, a bar in Aiken frequented by SREL employees
EOO recommended, and Seaman agreed to, a two week suspension without pay. Preventative measures were also taken. Seaman is now “prohibited from initiating one-on-one interactions outside of work with any employee whom he supervises.” He is also “prohibited from verbally commenting on or otherwise outwardly expressing his views about the physical appearance of women in his workplace,” as stated in the report.
As long as Seaman remains a UGA employee, he is bound to a no-contact directive between him and Smith, unless both parties agree to lift the directive, according to the report.
In an emailed statement sent in October, Seaman expressed regret over the events, while disputing the context of some of Smith’s claims.
“The incidents in question are some of my greatest personal and professional regrets,” Seaman wrote in an email to The Red & Black. “I am not a perfect person and I didn’t always handle things in the best manner. I cooperated fully with the university investigation and accepted the recommended punishment. Although I still dispute the context of some events, I never in any way tried to dismiss [Smith’s] feelings or concerns. I consider [Smith] an important colleague and friend and wish her nothing but the best in the future.”
Smith responded to an initial request for comment but did not respond thereafter.
In June, an employee contacted police about the investigation to “make the police department aware of the issue,” according to a UGA Police Department report. That employee did not respond to a request for comment.
In the course of its investigation, EOO interviewed Seaman and Smith, while also reviewing emails, text messages and other documents.
Toward the start of her work at the SREL, Seaman told Smith, “it was common ... for researchers to date or become romantically involved with students or technicians who worked in their labs,” Smith told investigators.
Seaman “frequently invited her for drinks and meals with him alone,” despite the fact that Smith was his subordinate, and she had started a relationship with another SREL employee. Smith also told EOO Seaman made comments saying the boyfriend “was not the right kind of person for her.”
Smith reported she sometimes altered her behavior after comments from Seaman and said she stopped wearing skirts or dresses after Seaman made a comment “to the effect that she should wear a skirt more often.”
Smith also accused Seaman of trying to obstruct her career development, a claim for which EOO did not find a preponderance of evidence.
When Smith told Seaman she was likely to accept a position with another university, Smith reported Seaman was upset and said it was not a good career move. Smith had not told Seaman about the hiring process “for fear that he would sabotage her prospects,” according to the report.
In July 2017, Seaman and Smith attended a conference together in Europe. Seaman asked Smith to take him sightseeing in another European city that Smith knew. Seaman booked only one hotel room in that city with two beds, an arrangement Smith told EOO she was not informed of until they arrived.
Smith told EOO she did not want to go sightseeing at all but felt obligated to because Seaman was her supervisor. Smith was uncomfortable with the sleeping arrangements but could not afford a separate hotel room. On the two nights they spent at the hotel, she stayed outside of the room until Seaman had fallen asleep before going to bed herself.
The incident that resulted in Smith making a sexual harassment and retaliation claim was Seaman telling Smith he did not want her to return to the SREL lab for her last few months with the lab, according to the report. Seaman suggested she work remotely until she began her new position at another university.
Seaman told EOO he merely offered her the chance to work remotely because Smith had told him she was not comfortable working in the lab, and “denies that he told [her] that he did not want her to come to the SREL lab anymore.”
A pattern of Seaman’s behavior revolved around visits to Grumpy’s Sports Pub, a frequent happy hour spot for SREL employees. Smith reported, and another employee corroborated, that Seaman would often become too intoxicated to drive and ask Smith for a ride home.
“[Smith] reports that she agreed because she felt responsible for Dr. Seaman as he was her supervisor,” the report reads. Smith believed Seaman drank excessively when she was around to have an excuse for “behaving badly.”
When Smith did not attend the happy hours, Seaman would text her “that he had missed her or that she wished she had come,” according to the report. Smith produced copies of text messages to EOO investigators confirming this.
“Up to the point of the attempted kiss or touching outside of Grumpy’s bar, Dr. Seaman’s conduct towards [Smith] during her post-doctoral employment had not been severe but had nonetheless been sufficiently persistent and pervasive as to cumulatively create a hostile and offensive working environment,” the report reads.
According to Smith, Seaman intruded on her personal space by making frequent visits to her office to the point that they became “irritatingly numerous,” a claim corroborated by her colleagues. She also said Seaman would sit next to her at meetings and when talking to her would “often incidentally touch her leg or back.”
Seaman’s behavior toward another woman mentioned in the report, who was unnamed, constituted a violation of the NDAH policy, EOO found. During the fall 2017 semester, Seaman asked a woman research professional whom he supervised to go on a date with him.
The research professional told EOO she felt “very awkward,” about the invitation and declined it. Though she had accepted a different position in the SREL where she would no longer be working under Seaman, Seaman was still her supervisor when he “declared his crush and invited her for a date.”
EOO found Seaman violated the NDAH Policy’s prohibition on sexual harassment from 2015-2019 and in 2018 violated the prohibition on pursuing a sexual relationship with another employee whom he supervised.
Seaman also violated the policy’s prohibition on pursuing a dating relationship with another employee in 2017.