Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino filed a defamation lawsuit against Harvard, HBS Dean Srikant M. Datar, and a trio of data investigators Wednesday following severe allegations that at least four of Gino’s papers contained fraudulent data.
In a 100-page filing, Gino alleged that Harvard and HBS Dean Srikant Datar “conspired” with Uri Simonsohn, Leif Nelson, and Joseph Simmons — three business school professors who run the data investigation blog Data Colada, which gave a detailed account of Gino’s alleged wrongdoing — to damage her reputation with false accusations.
The suit also alleges discrimination on the basis of gender, claiming that “Harvard’s gender bias against women was a motivating factor” in the “severe penalties” imposed on Gino, in violation of Title IX — a federal anti-sex discrimination law.
HBS spokesperson Mark Cautela declined to comment. Simonsohn, Nelson, and Simmons did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Over the course of four blog posts in June, Simonsohn, Nelson, and Simmons — who teach at ESADE Business School in Barcelona, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively — alleged that at least four of Gino’s papers, and possibly more, “contain fake data.”
Two of those four papers have been retracted since Data Colada’s posts, while a third was retracted in September 2021. The fourth is set to be retracted in September 2023.
Filed in Massachusetts federal district court by Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP, the 12-count lawsuit claims that Gino “has never falsified or fabricated data.”
The filing alleges that Data Colada engaged in a “vicious, defamatory smear campaign” against Gino “despite having no evidence that Plaintiff engaged in any act of ‘data fraud.’”
In a public LinkedIn post, Gino wrote she “had no choice but to file a lawsuit against Harvard University and members of the DataColada group, who worked together to destroy my career and reputation despite admitting they have no evidence proving their allegations.”
“They created and perpetuated a false narrative about my ethics and integrity, which has had a devastating impact on my friends, colleagues, collaborators and, most of all, my family,” she continued.
Gino’s lawyers claim that after Data Colada approached HBS about potential data fraud, the University and Datar “negotiated an agreement with Data Colada pursuant to which Harvard Business School investigated the allegations, in accordance with a new employment policy created solely for Plaintiff.”
According to the lawsuit, Datar told Gino that she would be put on unpaid administrative leave, immediately revoked her named professorship, and told Gino that he requested the University president — at the time, former President Lawrence S. Bacow — that Harvard began proceedings to revoke Gino’s tenure. Datar also informed Gino that she would be barred from campus.
No known instance exists of a Harvard professor’s tenure being revoked.
The lawsuit also states that HBS “discriminated on the basis of sex when it elected to investigate her under a newly created policy specific to her case,” arguing that “Harvard has treated similarly situated male professors differently.”
Under the policy, the lawsuit states, “allegations were required to be made in good faith, and an investigation was required to be fair. Neither of those things happened in this case.”
Gino is seeking “damages of at least $25 million and injunctive relief,” as well as a jury trial.
The suit also lists the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — and “John Does 1-10” and “Jane Does 1-10” as defendants.
Andrew T. Miltenberg, one of Gino’s attorneys, wrote in an emailed statement that Harvard’s “lack of integrity in its review process stripped Prof. Gino of her rights, career and reputation – and failed miserably with respect to gender equity.”
“Harvard’s complete and utter disregard for evidence, due process and confidentiality should frighten all academic researchers,” he wrote. “The bias and uneven application of oversight in this case is appalling.”
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at email@example.com.