In a lawsuit scheduled to be heard at trial in August, former Colorado State University computer-science professor Dr. Christina Boucher claims that CSU reacted to her reports of a male colleague's ogling by retaliating against her. She's being backed by the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, launched in the wake of sexual-harassment horror stories linked to disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein and others. But rather than settling the controversy, as have so many organizations unwilling to risk toxic publicity in the current media environment, CSU is doubling down on fighting the allegations.
A university statement provided to Westword reads: "While CSU takes allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation seriously, CSU strongly disputes Dr. Boucher’s claims and is actively defending against them. There has been no action taken against any employee based on Dr. Boucher’s allegations because the university has determined that none is warranted. We look forward to the opportunity to present the other side of the case in a court of law."
In addition, CSU has shared its motion for summary judgment (essentially a request that the entire matter be thrown out) and more than a dozen exhibits — a highly unusual action, given that the case is still active. All of the documents are accessible at the bottom of this post.
Also included is a statement from Boucher and the response to CSU's motion from Sam Cannon, her attorney, who stresses that his client informed the administration about the issue long before hashtags such as #MeToo were trending.
"Christina raised this in 2014, and she went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015," Cannon points out. "She stood up when no one was standing up. Since we're going to trial in 2018, it's easy to see this as her jumping on the bandwagon. But if anything, she was the prophet about this — the sign of things to come. When no one was listening, she said, 'This is wrong. You can't do this. I'm not going to put up with this.' And she suffered for it. That's really what our case is about."
Here's how Cannon lays out Boucher's tale, which dates back to 2012, when she was hired by CSU.
"The harassment basically started during her interview," he maintains. "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 continues, "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.'"
According to Cannon, that's not how things went down. "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 argues, 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."
Today, Boucher is an assistant professor for the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida.
CSU declines to comment on the specifics of Cannon's assertions. But the Colorado Attorney General's Office is expected to file a reply brief regarding Boucher's most recent response in the coming days.
When asked if he's surprised that CSU is still pressing its defense against Boucher's suit, as opposed to trying to make it quietly go away, Cannon replies, "I cannot honestly say I am. From day one on this case, even before it was filed with the EEOC, before it went to court and before anything on the legal side really happened, CSU didn't take Dr. Boucher seriously. And they still don't."
He adds: "As soon as Dr. Boucher complained, all these incidents that had never been raised before were brought up. Things that had never been a problem suddenly became the worst thing anyone had ever seen, and CSU is standing by that. They're saying these things she allegedly did were terrible and all their actions were justified. They're basically saying, 'This was no big deal.'"
Cannon feels Boucher's case is important in part because her many attributes didn't prevent her from being victimized. "Dr. Boucher has a Ph.D. She's shockingly bright, and in a lot of ways, she's very privileged. She has a good job, and even though she's not Donald Trump, by any means, she's made decent money. She's a professor. She's educated. And yet this still happened to her. She was still a target of retaliation and wasn't taken seriously. And if they can do this to Christina Boucher, who else can they do this to?"
Click to read CSU's motion for summary judgment, Boucher's response to the motion and additional documents provided by the university: exhibit D, exhibit E, exhibit F, exhibit G, exhibit H, exhibit I, exhibit J, exhibit K, exhibit L, exhibit M, exhibit N, exhibit O, exhibit R, exhibit S, exhibit T, exhibit X and exhibit Y.
Continue to read a statement from Dr. Christina Boucher:
"CSU’s effort to deny me access to a fair trial is just another example of how they’ve tried to bully me for simply reporting sexual harassment. Today I told the truth about what CSU put me and my family through.
"Before I reported the harassment, my annual evaluations from the department chair had been consistently positive, as was feedback from my colleagues and collaborators. I had published 20 scientific articles and was part of three funded grants worth over $2.5 million; I felt certain that I had a future at CSU and could provide the University with high-quality research, publication and teaching. Many colleagues described me as a 'rising star' in my field, and I was solidly on track for tenure.
"After I reported it, both my next annual evaluation and comprehensive three-year review of my performance were negative. Outrageously, my harasser was allowed to continue to evaluate me after I made the report; and I was removed from the tenure track. I felt forced out of the University, setting back my career and earning potential.
"I wasn’t the only one harmed by this. The graduate students on my team had to either move and restart at another university or be remotely advised. My husband, Jaime Ruiz, a CSU professor on tenure track, was also punished – his lab space was taken away, his graduate students had to either move and restart at another university or be remotely advised, and he also had to leave CSU. Our family, with a young child and another on the way, was uprooted when we moved to another state.
"Especially in the age of #MeToo and TimesUp, this kind of behavior should be exposed for what is is: outrageous, cruel, unfair, sexist and entirely unacceptable.
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"When someone is retaliated against, there is a ripple effect that extends far beyond just that one person. As is the situation when one woman comes forward, whether it’s against Harvey Weinstein or Roger Ailes, it’s usually just the tip of the iceberg.
"The truth is CSU’s administrators punished me for reporting the harassment more than they reprimanded my harasser, which is beyond unfair.
"Nevertheless, my primary concern is that CSU’s aggressive retaliation might deter victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault from speaking up.
"But my primary hope is that what happened to me is not repeated, and that sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault victims will receive the responses and support they deserve rather than retaliation."