CSU questions merit of former professor’s allegations of retaliation after sexual harassment report

Natalia Sperry

Colorado State University asked a judge to rule that a sexual harassment retaliation lawsuit filed by a former assistant professor has no merit in a 43-page motion for summary judgment filed May 28 in Larimer County District Court. If approved, the judge could decide to throw out the case out prior to the scheduled jury trial Aug. 20.

Colorado’s Assistant Attorney General Juliane DeMarco filed the University’s motion.

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CSU disputes the accusation that former assistant professor Christina Boucher faced retaliation after filing a sexual harassment report, as the lawsuit claims. The summary judgment motion is the University’s most detailed response to-date to Boucher’s allegations and the retaliation lawsuit beyond denying the claims outright.

Boucher, a former assistant professor in the computer science department, sued the University last year, claiming her ability to receive tenure was compromised and she and her husband, former CSU professor Jaime Ruiz, were forced to resign after she accused computer science professor Asa Ben-Hur of sexual harassment.

In an email to The Collegian, Boucher wrote the allegations within the motion are part of the University’s retaliation.

“My annual evaluations from the department chair had been consistently on-track for tenure, but after I reported the sexual harassment, my next annual evaluation was highly negative, as was his comprehensive three-year review of my performance,” Boucher wrote. “They punished me for reporting the harassment more than they reprimanded my harasser. Outrageously, my harasser was allowed to continue to evaluate me after I made the report.”

According to Boucher, the University’s retaliation impacted her husband, the graduate students both she and her husband advised and her collaborators at CSU.

“When someone is retaliated against, there is a ripple effect that extends far beyond just that one person,” Boucher wrote.

Since then, CSU has disputed the case and has taken no action against any of the three professors identified by the lawsuit, CSU Director of Public Affairs and Communications Mike Hooker previously told The Collegian.

Hooker wrote that CSU has no further comments at this time beyond the motion for summary of judgment.

In the motion, the University claims department and college supervisors were already discussing Boucher’s professional behavior and progress towards tenure prior to the report.

According to court documents, CSU claims Boucher cannot establish causation of retaliation and allegations of adverse actions against her, including that Boucher’s annual evaluation and pay raises were negatively impacted following the sexual harassment report.

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The CSU motion also states that Title VII anti-retaliation provisions in the law “do not allow employees who are already on thin ice to insulate themselves against termination or discipline by preemptively making a discrimination complaint.”

CSU claims Boucher received a poor performance review and raise based “on well-documented issues concerning (her) performance,” according to court documents.

Boucher wrote that before reporting the harassment, she was on track for tenure and felt secure in her position at the University.

“During my time at CSU, I published 20 scientific articles and was part of three funded grants worth over $2.5 million,” Boucher wrote. “I reported the harassment because I felt comfortable with my success at CSU and I wanted the harassment to stop.”

The University cites several incidents that Computer Science Department Chair Darrell Whitley and Dean of the College of Natural Sciences Janice Nerger identified as warning signs prior to Boucher’s reported allegations of sexual harassment. These include interactions with the Denver Zoo over a grant, an alleged refusal to teach life sciences students, and a disagreement about the extent of Boucher’s permission to edit Whitley’s draft of a letter of support for a National Science Foundation grant application.

According to court documents, Whitley expressed concern over what he identified as a pattern of behavior to Nerger in July 2014, after he was forwarded an email exchange sent by Boucher to the Denver Zoo. In the emails, Boucher allegedly chided a grant manager, who could not commit to working with her without additional time, for the zoo’s lack of support.

In the court documents, Whitley identified several of these issues as warning signs and wrote he “would like to get (Dean Nerger’s) input about what to do” in an email sent July 9, 2014.

In Boucher’s 2014 Annual Evaluation, Whitley indicated the interactions with the Denver Zoo, the dispute over the NSF letter and interactions with an advising student as justification for Boucher’s ratings of below expectations, according to court documents.

Boucher first reported the sexual harassment to Whitley on Oct. 28, 2014, according to court records.

Boucher wrote her primary concern is that CSU’s response might deter survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault from speaking up in the future. She and her team are seeking to have all Office of Equal Opportunity cases evaluated by external counsel for their merit.

“My ultimate hope is that what happened to me is not repeated and that sexual harassment, discrimination and assault victims find the help and support that they need rather than retaliation,” Boucher wrote.

Boucher’s attorney is expected to file an official legal response to the University’s summary judgment by June 11.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misspelled former CSU professor Jaime Ruiz’s name. This article has been updated to correctly spell Ruiz’s name.

Collegian News Editor Natalia Sperry can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Natalia_Sperry