Dean Janice Nerger testifies in sexual harassment case against CSU

Stuart Smith

Dean Janice Nerger of the Colorado State University College of Natural Sciences testified Aug. 23 in a civil trial brought against CSU by a former assistant professor of computer science.

The former assistant professor, Christina Boucher, claims her career was stagnated by the University after filing a grievance against another professor for sexual harassment.

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Boucher’s lawsuit claims that Asa Ben Hur, another professor in the computer science department, sexual harassed her. This harassment included staring at her chest and behind, making her uncomfortable.

She also claims that working in the computer science department and the lack of support from the University for her troubles led to depression and other mental and personal issues for Boucher, including straining her relationship with her son.

Boucher originally came to Nerger before filing the complaint, but Nerger worked with her to try to prevent a grievance being filed, instead wanting to keep the problem “in-house.”

Key points in the trial:

  • Christina Boucher filed a lawsuit against CSU on June 15, 2017, claiming she faced retaliation after reporting professor Asa Ben-Hur sexually harassed her.
  • The harassment is said to have started during summer 2012 before Boucher started working at CSU, during her initial interview.
  • On Oct. 28, 2014, Boucher reported to Computer Science Department Chair Darrell Whitley that Ben-Hur would stare at her chest and backside in a sexual manner.
  • Boucher alleged that her tenure was affected after she reported the harassment. According to court documents, she received a negative evaluation from the tenure and promotions committee, which Ben-Hur sat on.
  • CSU disputed Boucher’s claims and asked a judge to rule that the case has no merit May 28, 2018.
  • Boucher’s lawyers filed a response on June 11, claiming that there is a culture of gender discrimination at CSU.
  • On June 25, Larimer County District Court Judge Stephen Jouard denied CSU’s request for summary judgment.

At one point, Nerger asked Boucher if Ben-Hur would have stared at her on purpose or not, as he “tends to look down,” she said.

“I don’t think he’s looking at anything,” Nerger said. “Eye contact makes him uncomfortable.”

Nerger testified that Boucher replied that it didn’t matter whether it was intentional or not, it still made her uncomfortable.

Though Boucher did eventually file the complaint, CSU’s Office of Equal Oppurtunity dismissed it as unfounded. No action from it was taken against Nerger, Ben-Hur or CS Department Chairman Darrell Whitley.

CSU’s legal team later used a collection of evidence and Nerger’s testimony to show Boucher as difficult to work with and a disinterested teacher when students weren’t in her subject of expertise, such as non-CS students in an upper-division bioinformatics class for biology/life science and computer science students.

Despite this, Nerger says that Boucher was hired as part of a cluster to be a bioinformatics professor, as that is her area of expertise and research.

Other topics mentioned on Thursday included concerned Boucher’s health, emails between Boucher and Nerger, the filing of her complaint with the University and a 2014 staff meeting where she brought up concerns about the treatment of women in the CS department.

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CSU will be presenting its side of the case this Monday and Tuesday, with the jury expected to come to a decision midweek.

Stuart Smith can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @stuartsmithnews