Updated July 29 at 1:35 p.m.
A federal jury ruled in favor of a former professor who sued Columbia, claiming that the University failed to prevent retaliation from a senior professor who delayed her research and bashed her reputation.
After a three-week-long trial, the jury delivered a verdict in favor of Enrichetta Ravina, a former assistant finance professor who filed a $30 million lawsuit in 2016 against the University and her ex-mentor Geert Bekaert for gender discrimination and retaliation. While the jury rejected all claims of gender discrimination, they found Bekaert liable for retaliating against Ravina for calling her a “bitch,” “evil,” and “crazy” to colleagues.
The jury awarded Ravina $1.25 million in compensatory and punitive damages; Bekaert will pay $500,000 in punitive damages, while the rest will be divided between the University and Bekaert.
The jury also rejected claims that Columbia as an institution retaliated against Ravina, but under New York state law, the University is vicariously responsible for the retaliatory conduct of its professors. In a statement to Spectator, a University spokesperson reiterated that Columbia’s decision to decline Ravina’s tenure appointment was not called into question in the final verdict, but emphasized that the University prohibits retaliation and was regretful of Bekaert’s actions.
Following the verdict, the jury will hear evidence from Ravina to determine the amount of front pay, back pay, compensatory, and punitive damages to be paid by Bekaert. Columbia, however, is not guilty of wrongful termination or direct retaliation and is therefore not liable for punitive damages.
Ravina, who began working at the University in 2009, claimed that Bekaert’s harassment occurred during the 2012-13 academic year. She alleges that after she brought complaints to administrators and senior faculty members in 2014, the University failed to properly investigate her claims in accordance with Title IX laws, and did not respond to Bekaert’s retaliation. Ravina further claimed that Columbia revoked their offer of paid academic leave, and wrongfully terminated her after they detected threat of legal action.
During his closing statement, Ravina’s representative also asked the jury to consider their potential to impact national conversations regarding sexual harassment on college campuses.
“You will get an opportunity to speak and render a verdict that not only will be heard in New York but also heard throughout universities and colleges and indeed throughout America,” David Sanford said. “Professor Bekaert did the wrong thing, and he did the wrong thing over and over again. Columbia University did the worst thing—it did nothing.”
Closing arguments regarding damages will take place Friday, following which the jury will deliberate on the amount to be awarded to the plaintiff.