Judge rules former CSU assistant professor’s sexual harassment, retaliation lawsuit will go to jury

Natalia Sperry

Former assistant professor Christina Boucher’s sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against Colorado State University will go forward.

On June 25, Larimer County District Court Judge Stephen Jouard denied CSU’s request for summary judgment, which asked the court to rule Boucher’s claims were without merit and to throw the case out prior to the scheduled Aug. 20 jury trial.

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According to court documents issued by Larimer County, Jouard determined numerous facts are in dispute, including whether there are legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons that motivated CSU’s actions and whether or not there is evidence of retaliation.

“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,” Boucher wrote in a statement to The Collegian. “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.”

Boucher, who worked in the computer science department, sued the University last year over claims that CSU compromised her ability to receive tenure after she accused computer science professor Asa Ben-Hur of sexual harassment.

Boucher also claims she and her husband, former CSU professor Jaime Ruiz, were forced to resign due to the retaliation.

In a statement to The Collegian, CSU Director of Public Affairs and Communications Mike Hooker wrote that the University’s position has not changed despite the ruling. The University has not taken action against any faculty identified in the case.

As we stated previously, while CSU takes allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation seriously, CSU strongly disputes Dr. Boucher’s claims and will continue to actively defend against them,” Hooker wrote. “We look forward to the opportunity to present our position at trial.”

CSU attorneys filed the motion questioning the case’s merits in May, claiming department and college supervisors were already discussing Boucher’s professional behavior and progress toward tenure prior to her report of sexual harassment.

Boucher said she received positive evaluations from colleagues and department supervisors and was on track for tenure before she reported the harassment. After reporting the harassment, she claims her supervisors, including Ben-Hur, evaluated her negatively.

CSU’s attorneys claimed Boucher’s evaluations and raises were based solely on performance, and faculty had pre-existing concerns about her professional behavior.

CSU cited several incidents that Computer Science Department Chair Darrell Whitley and Dean of the College of Natural Sciences Janice Nerger identified as warning signs concerning Boucher’s behavior, including interactions with the Denver Zoo over a grant, an alleged refusal to teach life sciences students and a disagreement about a letter of support for a National Science Foundation grant application.

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According to court documents filed by CSU’s attorneys, Whitely and Nerger addressed these issues in July 2014. Boucher first reported the sexual harassment to Whitley on Oct. 28, 2014.

The CSU motion also states that Title VII anti-retaliation provisions in the law prevent employees who are already on “thin ice” from claiming retaliation.

Boucher’s attorneys responded in June, alleging the incidents Boucher experienced were part of a larger pattern of behavior at the University.

The filing included examples of other individuals within the department with stories similar to Boucher’s and included claims of additional cases of gender discrimination at the University.

Boucher also disputed the characterization of the incidents CSU identified as warning signs, including her interaction with the Denver Zoo and a number of interactions surrounding her annual evaluations, tenure committee meetings and ultimate resignation from the University.

The judge ruled the evidence presented in CSU’s motion suggests the motivations for many actions against Boucher pre-dated her complaint. Additionally, the judge wrote a jury could determine the University had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its action due to some of the evidence, according to court documents.

Jouard wrote Boucher needed to establish evidence that proved she faced retaliation from the University.

Boucher’s attorneys submitted materials they said proved CSU retaliated, arguing the materials establishes inconsistencies in CSU’s explanations of its behavior, provides direct evidence of intent for CSU’s alleged retaliation, deviations from its normal complaint procedure, differential treatment of her alleged harasser and similar experiences by other CSU employees, according to court documents.

Based on the disputation of the facts and merits of the case, the judge ruled the lawsuit will move forward to a jury.  

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.

“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,” Boucher wrote.

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