Posted November 9th, 2018.
By Pete Brush
Law360, New York (November 9, 2018, 6:14 PM EST) — A request by former Columbia University professor Enrichetta Ravina to have an ex-colleague’s emails secretly scanned for disparaging remarks about her has the university scrambling for more time to brief a Manhattan federal judge, according to court filings.
The Ivy League school asked Manhattan U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams in a letter Wednesday to respond to Ravina’s unusual request, which was buried in an Oct. 26 court filing.
Ravina wants the university to screen finance professor Geert Bekaert’s “future emails” for a secret list of objectionable words. Ravina claimed Bekaert harassed her and retaliated against her in a $30 million suit filed in 2016. In July, a jury awarded Ravina $1.25 million. But the verdict hasn’t ended the bad blood, with Ravina claiming in recent months that Bekaert is likely to continue to disparage her.
“Bekaert has persistently shown that he is unable to control his vindictive impulses to lash out and disparage [me],” Ravina said in an Aug. 23 court filing. A proposed injunction order submitted at that time asks that Bekaert not refer to Ravina as “crazy, insane, mentally unstable, berserk, paranoid, schizophrenic, mentally imbalanced, sick, deranged” or “evil, vicious, cruel, mean, abusive, sadistic” or “dishonest, untruthful, deceitful, manipulative,” among other words.
In a follow-up filing dated Oct. 26, Ravina asked for the email snooping provision and said revealing the list of objectionable terms would “undermine the efficacy” of the request. Bekaert could “evade electronic detection by eschewing use of the terms in favor of similar variants,” Ravina’s lawyers said.
On Wednesday, Columbia requested leave to respond to the Oct. 26 filings.
“When plaintiff moved for a permanent injunction on August 23, 2018, she did not articulate what she was asking the court to order Columbia to do,” the school said.
The school also submitted a declaration saying its email technology will not allow for such snooping.
Bekaert’s personal counsel, in an Oct. 2 filing, said Ravina’s request to put him on secret email probation is “overbroad” and unsupported by facts. Bekaert’s lawyer called the filings “hyperbolic arguments” and said any such order would violate his rights.
Bekaert’s filing also said Columbia has already paid Ravina a $750,000 portion of the verdict. The jury awarded her that amount in compensatory damages and also hit Bekaert with $500,000 in punitive damages.
Bekaert has asked Judge Abrams to throw out the verdict or to reduce the damages awarded.
Ravina is currently a visiting professor at Northwestern University.
Ravina is represented by David Sanford, Alexandra Harwin, Vincent McKnight, Andrew Melzer, Melinda Koster and Amy Donehower of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.
Columbia is represented by Bettina B. Plevan, Steven D. Hurd, Rachel S. Fischer and P. Kramer Rice of Proskauer Rose LLP.
Bekaert is represented by Edward Hernstadt of Hernstadt Atlas PLLC.
The case is 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 Stephen Berg.