Columbia University Sexual Harassment Case – $1.25 Jury Verdict

Case Description

Case Type: Sexual Harassment
Company: Columbia University

(March 23, 2016) New York, NY – Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP filed a complaint Tuesday night in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Columbia University. The complaint alleges that the lip service Columbia pays to gender diversity doesn’t match the reality of how it treats the women who work there.  The complaint provides extensive details regarding how the senior leadership of Columbia – including the Provost of the University and the Dean of Columbia Business School – allowed one of Columbia’s senior, tenured professors to sexually harass and obstruct the work of a female junior faculty member, plaintiff Enrichetta Ravina.

Ms. Ravina, currently an Assistant Professor at Columbia Business School, asserts claims of gender discrimination, hostile work environment, quid pro quo sexual harassment, retaliation, failure to promote, and wrongful discharge. “Along with the reputational harm that she has suffered, the physical and emotional toll on Ms. Ravina has been devastating,” stated Alexandra Harwin, Senior Litigation Counsel at Sanford Heisler Sharp and counsel to Ms. Ravina. “Ms. Ravina has dedicated her whole professional life to academic research.  Her career prospects have been torn away because she said ‘no’ to unwanted sexual advances in her workplace.”

The complaint alleges that rather than stop the harassment, Columbia retaliated against Ms. Ravina for protesting her treatment, including revoking a year of leave that had previously been granted and putting her on an accelerated tenure process in which it is impossible for Ms. Ravina to succeed.

Columbia has scheduled a meeting on Ms. Ravina tenure for next Wednesday, March 30, 2016.  “We are calling on Columbia immediately to halt the tenure process that it currently has planned for Ms. Ravina and to cancel the upcoming vote on her tenure,” said David Sanford, Chairman of Sanford Heisler Sharp. “To give Ms. Ravina a fair chance to make up for the time that has been stolen from her, Columbia should immediately extend her tenure clock.”

According to the complaint, Professor Geert Bekaert – who held himself out to Ms. Ravina as her official mentor and held veto power over her work – subjected Ms. Ravina to quid pro quo sexual harassment beginning in the 2012-2013 academic year.  The complaint details examples of Professor Bekaert talking about how often he watched pornography, applauding the use of prostitutes, and describing his sexual exploits.  He is accused of seeking an intimate relationship with Ms. Ravina, insisting that she meet with him off-campus, demanding that she compliment him, describing her as “sexy,” indicating that he was “horny,” and subjecting her to unwanted touching.  When Ms. Ravina rejected his sexual advances, Professor Bekaert allegedly sabotaged her work, using his veto authority to delay and undermine her research and publications.  The more she resisted his sexual advances, the complaint says, the worse his behavior became.  According to the complaint, he made it clear that he would stall Ms. Ravina’s publication efforts until and unless she gave in to his sexual advances, admonishing Ms. Ravina that if she changed course and were “nicer” to him, he would allow her work to proceed faster.

According to the complaint, Ms. Ravina spent more than a year trying to work through Columbia’s internal processes.  During that same time period, numerous other faculty also attempted to intercede on her behalf, including through two written petitions submitted in February 2015 and January 2016.  A Columbia law professor also penned an email to the University, describing her dismay at Columbia’s inaction and specifically naming the situation as one where gender was playing a role.  Despite these efforts by Ms. Ravina and her colleagues, the complaint asserts that Columbia’s senior leadership repeatedly minimized Ms. Ravina’s concerns and at times became critical of Ms. Ravina, mocking her situation as ‘soap opera,’ accusing her of flirting with her harasser, and pressing Ms. Ravina to give up on her research.

In addition to injunctive relief, Ms. Ravina seeks damages in excess of $20 million, including back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.  She brings claims under the New York City Human Rights Law; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as amended.

A jury trial is requested.

Case Materials

Our Team

David SanfordDavid Sanford
Chairman
Washington, DC

Andrew MelzerAndrew Melzer
NY Partner
New York, NY

Alexandra HarwinAlexandra Harwin
NY Partner
New York, NY

Melinda KosterMelinda Koster
Associate
New York, NY

Amy DonehowerAmy Donehower
Associate
New York, NY

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