Colorado State University has failed to short-circuit Dr. Christina Boucher's ogling lawsuit over her time at the school. CSU's motion to toss the complaint has been denied, removing the last major obstacle prior to the scheduled August 20 start of a trial in a case that is supported by the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund but actually predated the 2017 sexual harassment horror stories that helped inspire the #MeToo movement.
In a statement provided to Westword about the ruling, Boucher maintains that "CSU’s efforts to deny me access to a fair trial were just another example of how they’ve tried to bully me for simply reporting sexual harassment. Thankfully, the court was not swayed by their false accusations. I told the truth about what CSU put me and my family through, and the court decided that my case is strong enough to move forward to trial."
The university's response to the latest development: "CSU takes allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation seriously. CSU strongly disputes Dr. Boucher’s claims and will continue to actively defend against them. We look forward to the opportunity to present our position at trial."
In an earlier interview with Westword, attorney Sam Cannon, who represents Boucher, pointed out that "Christina raised this in 2014, and she went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2015. 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."
According to Cannon, the story behind the lawsuit dates back to 2012, when Boucher was hired by CSU.
"The harassment basically started during her interview," he maintained. "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 continued, "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 said. "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."
Today, Boucher is an assistant professor for the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida — and in Cannon's view, her 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?"
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Larimer County District Court Judge Stephen Jouard cleared the way for questions like this one to be debated in court. In his ruling, he writes that "there are disputed issues of material fact with regard to whether Plaintiff [Boucher] has established a prima facie case, whether there are legitimate non-discriminatory reasons which motivated CSU’s behavior, and whether or not there is evidence of pretext."
Elaborating on Jouard's take, Boucher notes, "This order confirms what we've been saying all along — that CSU needs to answer to the people of Colorado for their actions. We continue to believe we have a strong case and intend to prove that in court."
She adds: "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."
Click to read the order denying CSU's motion for summary judgment in the Boucher lawsuit.