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Harvard University and Harvard Business School Dean Srikant M. Datar filed a motion on Tuesday to partially dismiss the pending $25 million lawsuit against them by HBS professor Francesca Gino, citing the need for the University to have autonomy in its academic decision-making.
Gino’s lawsuit accuses Harvard and Datar of defamation, breaching confidentiality, and gender-based discrimination in their handling of data fraud allegations against her. In 2022, HBS began an 18-month internal investigation into Gino’s research after the quantitative analysis blog Data Colada alerted them of possible academic misconduct.
In a memorandum accompanying Tuesday’s motion, Harvard argued that Gino’s complaints could not be supported as the University had full legal right to take the disciplinary actions it did against Gino — including revoking her named professorship, barring her from campus, and beginning proceedings that could strip her of her tenure.
“After a thorough, fair, and objective process, Harvard found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Plaintiff intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly committed research misconduct,” Harvard argued in the memo.
“To protect research integrity, it took justified actions within the scope of its policies. Plaintiff’s Complaint boils down to an inappropriate and unjustified demand that this Court intervene in these internal affairs of an academic institution all because she disagrees with the results,” the memo read.
Harvard’s memo stressed the importance of autonomy in the University’s decision-making.
“Not only does the law disfavor such involvement in a university’s academic decision-making, but also the Complaint offers little to justify this Court taking such action,” the memo reads, adding that Gino’s complaint is “absurd on its face and has no basis whatsoever in reality.”
Gino’s lawsuit came just five days after HBS notified her that her tenure was being reviewed for possible revocation. Over the past several months, Gino has repeatedly asserted her innocence of all fraud allegations — even publishing a website refuting HBS’ and Data Colada’s claims.
In its motion, Harvard argued that Gino had failed to demonstrate that she did not manipulate data.
“Plaintiff provides no explanation for the significant data anomalies on which the Committee’s conclusion was based,” reads the motion. “She also does not offer any reasonable exculpatory evidence. Instead, she offers vague assurances about her honesty and integrity.”
Because a committee of three senior HBS faculty members found strong evidence of data fraud committed “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly,” Harvard said their sanctions against Gino are legitimate and she has no grounds to contest them as discriminatory or disproportionate.
“Plaintiff has not alleged that Harvard did anything it was not expressly authorized to do or otherwise treated her unlawfully,” the motion reads. “Her defamation, civil conspiracy, and tortious interference claims fail because they are based on statements that are either true (even based solely on the Complaint’s allegations) or are non-actionable statements of opinion.”
The motion to dismiss also counters Gino’s accusations that HBS has invaded her privacy, stating that all information publicly released surrounding the investigation into Gino — such as the fact that she was placed on administrative leave — is “not the type of highly private information protected from disclosure.”
Along with its motion to dismiss, Harvard filed a request for oral argument and moved to publicly file a redacted version of the HBS investigation committee’s 1,200-page report on Gino’s alleged research misconduct. If its movement succeeds, an unredacted copy of the final report will also be made available under seal.
In an emailed statement Thursday, Gino’s attorney Andrew T. Miltenberg reiterated her innocence and maintained that Harvard’s investigation and tenure review policies are restrictive and legally misleading.
“Harvard’s actions this week only continue to demonstrate its leadership does not practice what they preach,” Miltenberg wrote. “Faculty should be shocked to see Harvard claim that its own policies are not legally binding – exposing how leadership continues to diverge from Harvard’s values.”
“As we have always been clear, Prof. Gino is innocent of these accusations and Harvard’s process failed her miserably,” he added. “Our fight does not stop here.”
On Oct. 12, Gino’s legal team filed an unopposed motion to extend their deadline to respond to the partial motion to dismiss; Gino now must respond by Nov. 7. Data Colada is also required to respond to Gino’s original complaint by Nov. 8.
—Staff writer Adelaide E. Parker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on X @adelaide_prkr.
—Staff writer Jennifer Y. Song can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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