Professor Accuses Colorado State of Retaliation

DENVER (CN) — An assistant professor claims Colorado State University forced her to resign by failing to stop a powerful professor on the tenure and promotions committee from sexually harassing her and retaliating for her complaints of it.

Christina Boucher, now an assistant professor in computer science at the University of Florida, sued Colorado State University, two of its top administrators and the man who allegedly harassed her, Professor Asa Ben Hur, on June 15 in Larimer County Court.

Boucher claims she suffered a “campaign of retaliation” after she reported Ben Hur for frequently looking at her chest “in a sexual manner.”

As a tenure-track professor, Boucher says, she was in a position where Ben Hur could “recommend tangible employment actions against her.”

Her attorney Sam Cannon said in a statement to Courthouse News that Boucher’s case was not an anomaly.

“Dr. Christina Boucher’s case against Colorado State University is just one example of the troubling and unacceptable culture of discrimination and retaliation against female faculty at CSU,” Cannon said in an email.

“Since CSU has forced her to file this lawsuit, Dr. Boucher hopes the case will raise awareness of the issues female faculty at CSU face and will bring about positive change at an institution that desperately needs it.”

The complaint cites a March 2017 report published by CSU employees that found “gender-based inequities at both interpersonal and institutional levels,” and that the evaluation process for female faculty was “erratic, unfair, and inconsistently applied.”

Colorado State University did not respond to a request for comment.

“Hur’s behavior made Boucher uncomfortable, and she considered it sexual harassment,” the complaint states. “Throughout Boucher’s employment at CSU, she had a good faith belief that she was the victim of sexual harassment at the hands of Ben Hur.”

In 2014 Boucher was given a performance review by the tenure committee that said she was “doing very well in all respects.” But shortly afterward, Boucher approached her supervisor to report Ben Hur’s uncomfortable behavior, including that he “continually looked at her chest in a sexual manner.”

Boucher says she quickly felt her peers’ attitudes toward her change. She says her supervisor disclosed her complaint to Ben Hur, after which Ben Hur “stopped inviting Boucher to meetings even when those meetings related to her research or her graduate student advisees.”

He asked Boucher to step down from one student’s Ph.D. committee “because Boucher made Ben Hur ‘feel uncomfortable,’” according to the complaint.

Boucher claims that a member of the tenure and promotion committee said that Ben Hur’s retaliation against Boucher “ruined [Boucher’s] once thriving career at [CSU].”

Boucher was given a negative performance review in 2015, in which her supervisor rated her “below expectations in two of the three categories.” Boucher reported it as a retaliatory evaluation to CSU’s Office of Equal Opportunity.

But the tenure and promotion committee was still set to “strongly recommend” Boucher’s tenure in 2015, until “Ben Hur claimed Boucher had treated him hatefully,” the complaint states.

That “led members of the committee to believe Boucher had done something truly terrible,” according to the complaint.

The retaliation behavior continued in 2016, Boucher says, when a member of the Board of Governors prevented her from using research funds to pay her graduate students. When she asked the member for the funds, she was told she would get them once there was a “confirmation from you of your resignation.”

Boucher says she was forced to resign and move to Florida when she realized “she would not receive tenure at CSU as Ben Hur, through the Tenure and Promotion Committee … would have to recommend for her to receive tenure or a promotion.”

Boucher seeks lost wages and damages for retaliation.

Attorney Cannon is with Cannon Hadfield Stieben in Fort Collins.

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