Dr. Christina Boucher's ogling lawsuit against Colorado State University was superpowered by the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, a project launched in the wake of sexual-harassment horror stories linked to disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein and others. But despite the increased attention being paid to such complaints across the country, a jury has ruled against Boucher, finding that CSU's actions didn't qualify as improper retaliation.
In a statement, university spokesman Mike Hooker stresses that "CSU takes sexual harassment and retaliation laws very seriously," before adding, "We thank the members of the jury for their careful consideration of the evidence that was presented at trial."
Hooker points out that "CSU has always denied any wrongdoing in this case, and it is important to differentiate between the statements Dr. Christina Boucher previously made to the media along with the allegations in her complaint compared with the actual evidence that was introduced at trial. The jury's verdict is consistent with the findings of the CSU Office of Equal Opportunity, which had previously investigated Dr. Boucher's complaints and determined that no university policy had been violated and that there was no sexual harassment or retaliation against Dr. Boucher."
Boucher's own statement describes the verdict as a "heartbreaking setback" but notes that "this trial gave me an opportunity to expose the toxic climate for women in the computer science department at CSU and to tell my full story about how CSU administrators ran a campaign of retaliation against me, in effect punishing the victim for reporting sexual harassment."
In a previous interview with Westword, Sam Cannon, the attorney who represented Boucher, maintained that the harassment "basically started during her interview" for a position as a computer-science professor at the university in 2012. "She was post-doc at that point, just getting her career going. Two and a bit years later, she's doing great. She's on the tenure track, she's getting positive reviews, positive feedback from the promotion committee and publishing like crazy. She's a rising star."
But then, he said, "she decides, 'This is great, except how I'm being treated by this professor who's ogling me. I'm just going to fix it. I'm now experienced and respected enough that I should be able to complain about this and be listened to.'"
That's not how things went down, Cannon continued: "CSU tells its staff, 'We don't tolerate this. We won't let it happen.' But after Christina talked to them, it was almost like the flick of a switch. She suddenly goes from being a rising star to a problem employee. She gets a bad evaluation. They even run off to the guy she complained about and told him — and he stops inviting her to stuff and she gets excluded from events."
Shortly thereafter, he argued, is "when the real retaliation begins. Ultimately, it boils down into a formal grievance where she says, 'I believe my bad evaluation was in retaliation for me complaining about this professor.' But before any investigation was done, the dean emails the accused party. And it's pretty clear from that email and other stuff that the deck was stacked against her and everyone already had their minds made up before the investigation began. That went on for around a year and a half before my client finally left."
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After splitting from CSU, Boucher landed a gig as an assistant professor for the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida — but she continued to pursue her complaint against CSU in Larimer County Court. The trial began last week, with Cara Morlan of the Colorado Attorney General's Office, who defended CSU in the matter, reportedly arguing that what Boucher regarded as retaliation was actually a justifiable response to her own actions.
The jury of four men and two women didn't take long to reach a conclusion, deliberating for just two hours on August 28 before determining that no violation of law had taken place.
Another passage from Boucher's statement makes it clear that she feels no regrets over taking the university to court.
"What happened to me was wrong, and I wanted to stand up for what is right," she allows. "Of course I had hoped there would be justice and I would be vindicated. Nonetheless, I hope that the trial itself will have an impact on the climate for women at CSU and that in the future, CSU will deal with campus sexual harassment sympathetically, without blaming the victim."