Columbia U. Professor Awarded $1.25 Million For Retaliation After Her Report Of Sexual Harassment
On July 27, 2018, former Columbia University finance professor, Enrichetta Ravina, was awarded $750,000 by a SDNY jury to be paid by the University and Geert Bekaert, the professor who allegedly harassed her, and $500,000 in punitive damages to be paid by Bekaert only.
Ravina alleged that Bekaert, a senior, tenured finance professor, acted in the capacity of her supervisor while they worked together on a research project. The project, as well as any publications related to it, was the primary work that Ravina planned to submit in support of her tenure application.
Ravina alleged that during the course of the project Bekaert subjected her to unwelcome sexually explicit conversations, including about Bekaert’s personal sexual exploits, and that when she rejected his sexually advances, Bekaert sabotaged and delayed the project. In addition, Ravina alleged that Bekaert made explicit demands for a sexual quid pro quoby telling her that if she were “nicer”, he would allow her work to proceed faster.
Ravina alleged that after she repeatedly complained about Bekaert’s conduct to Columbia University officials, the University retaliated against her by revoking a paid leave period during which she intended to prepare her tenure application, and establishing a short notice deadline for the application, which was rejected in April 2016.
Ravina commenced an action in SDNY alleging claims for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation. The defendants contended that (a) Ravina’s tenure application was justifiably denied because none of her research papers were published, (b) Bekaert’s conduct was not sufficiently severe to constitute a hostile work environment, and (c) there was no evidence that the tenure denial had any connection to Ravina’s purported rejection of Bekaert’s advances.
During his closing statement, Ravina’s counsel invoked the #MeToo movement, referred to Bekaert as a “privileged white male”, and asked the jury to send a message that Bekaert’s conduct should not be countenanced. The jury denied Ravina’s gender discrimination and sexual harassment claims, but apparently sought to make a statement by hitting Bekaert with a $500,000 punitive damages award.