Columbia Prof Now Seeking $30M In Harassment Suit

Posted July 8th, 2016.

As It Appeared On
Law360

By Kelly Knaub

Law360, New York (July 8, 2016, 10:19 PM ET) — A Columbia University professor who sued the institution for $20 million in March alleging it retaliated against her for reporting sexual harassment by a senior colleague filed an amended complaint in New York federal court Friday, upping the damages to $30 million and adding the accused harasser as a defendant.

Plaintiff Enrichetta Ravina filed an amended complaint in New York’s Southern District seeking damages of more than $30 million for front pay, back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees, and added Geert Bekaert, a tenured professor of finance and economics at the Columbia Business School, as a defendant, accusing him of sexually harassing her.

Specifically, Ravina alleges that he infused their conversations with sexual content, such as talking about how often he watched pornography, applauding the use of prostitutes and describing his sexual exploits. When Ravina rejected his advances, Bekaert sabotaged her work by unduly delaying and undermining joint research projects and made it clear that he would stall their collaboration and Ravina’s publication efforts unless she gave in to his sexual advances, the amended complaint says.

“When the university learned that Ms. Ravina was being harassed, Columbia failed to do the right thing, failed to take timely and appropriate action, and failed to send strong signals to its community that it will support its female students, faculty and staff when allegations of sexual harassment are made,” David Sanford, lead counsel for Ravina, said in a statement. “Individuals who level serious charges should be taken seriously and be supported. A New York City jury will understand what Columbia’s obligations are and will issue a verdict which reflects that understanding.”

In April, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams refused to grant a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction filed by Ravina, who had asked the court to stop a scheduled vote that had been expected to result in the denial of her tenure.

Columbia initially postponed the vote but then went through with it, despite repeated requests by senior faculty who petitioned on Ravina’s behalf to delay it further, and Ravina’s tenure was ultimately denied.

She received a letter on May 11 informing her that she would be terminated from the school on June 30, 2017, according to the amended complaint.

Ravina had argued that a denial of tenure would leave her with virtually no chance to obtain another tenure-track position at an equivalent university, contending that such a denial “functions as a permanent ‘black mark’ on an academic’s professional reputation.”

“Columbia still doesn’t get it,” said Alexandra Harwin, who also represents Ravina. “Columbia’s own faculty repeatedly told administrators that it was inappropriate to vote on Ms. Ravina’s tenure because of how she had been treated. Nonetheless, Columbia maneuvered to deny tenure to Ms. Ravina and protect Professor Bekaert.”

Ravina, an assistant professor of finance at the Columbia Business School, lodged her initial complaint on March 22, saying in her 18-count complaint that the university refused to prevent Bekaert — who held power over the progress of Ravina’s research, and therefore her ability to secure tenure — from making unwanted sexual advances, then “fiercely retaliated against her” by setting unrealistic deadlines that would result in her failing to win tenure.

As early as May 2014, Ravina complained to leaders of the business school, including Dean R. Glenn Hubbard, that Bekaert had made inappropriate sexual remarks to her, including calling her “sexy,” saying she appeared to have an acute sex drive and eventually indicating that her work on a project crucial to her career depended on her accepting his overtures, the complaint said.

Ravina made several efforts to have Columbia officials intervene, but the school took no action other than to attempt to convince her to drop her research, according to the complaint.

She alleges that Columbia’s senior leaders, including Hubbard, repeatedly dismissed and even mocked her complaints, calling the ordeal a “soap opera,” accusing her of flirting with Bekaert and advising her to give up her research agenda.

An attorney for Columbia did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Ravina is represented by David Sanford, Jeremy Heisler and Alexandra Harwin of Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP.

Columbia is represented by Bettina B. Plevan and Joseph C. O’Keefe Jr. of Proskauer Rose LLP and Christopher Saleh Bouriat of the New York City Law Department.

The case is Enrichetta Ravina v. Columbia University, case number 1:16-cv-02137, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

–Editing by Mark Lebetkin.

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