Harvard went to Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) Friday to appeal a discrimination judgement of over $1.2 million that was awarded to a former Harvard security guard over two years ago.
The guard, Viatcheslav "Steve" Abramian, sued Harvard for discrimination on the basis of national origin, claiming he was fired because he complained about another guard's anti-Russian slurs and behavior during his time at Harvard.
But in oral arguments before the SJC Friday, Harvard argued that the trial judge had erred in instructing the jury. The trial judge's instruction was, according to both parties, the most significant of five stated reasons for appeal. If Harvard prevails in its appeal, the case will be sent back to the trial court and a new jury will consider the case.
The trial judge had instructed the jury to rule in favor of Abramian if they did not believe Harvard's stated reason for firing Abramian, according to Harvard's attorney in the case, Allan A. Ryan Jr.
But Ryan claims a decision that Harvard was not telling the truth does not necessarily mean Abramian was discriminated against. He could have been fired, Ryan said, because his supervisor just didn't like him.
"I think it is entirely possible that the jury returned a large verdict for Mr. Abramian because he was not the teacher's pet," he said. "The law prohibits discrimination; it doesn't prevent cronyism."
However, Jonathan Barter, Abramian's attorney, said he thought Harvard was being disingenuous in their appeal.
"[Harvard is] saying 'The jury didn't buy our first argument. Now that we've lost, give us another chance, maybe we can come up with a new reason [for having fired Abramian],'" he said. "Neither Harvard nor any other employer should be rewarded for its own mendacity. The obligation on their part should be to tell the truth."