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BC Files Defense Against Sex and Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuit Made by Former Professor

The Trustees of Boston College answered former BC professor Hristina Nikolova’s discrimination lawsuit against the University on Feb. 1, asserting that Nikolova failed to state claims for which relief could be granted.

“BC’s denial of tenure was based on legitimate non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons,” the docket reads.

Nikolova, a former assistant professor of marketing in the Carroll School of Management (CSOM), filed a lawsuit against BC’s trustees on Oct. 26, 2023 in the Suffolk County Superior Court, alleging she faced gender discrimination in her tenure application process during her maternity leave. The lawsuit calls on the University to pay more than $1.7 million in damages.

Nikolova is suing BC on counts of breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, retaliation, interference, sex and pregnancy discrimination, parental leave, and family and medical leave.

Nikolova came to BC in 2014 as an assistant professor of marketing on the tenure track. The lawsuit claims she exceeded BC’s tenure standards through her job performance and her publications. BC denied that Nikolova had done so.

“BC denies that Nikolova exceeded BC’s requirements for tenure and denies that BC promised to promote Nikolova with tenure,” the docket reads. 

According to the suit, Nikolova was evaluated by CSOM’s “Fourth Year Tenure Review Committee,” which “lauded her accomplishments.” According to BC, the “Fourth Year Tenure Review Committee” does not exist.

“BC states that there is no ‘Fourth Year Tenure Review Committee,’ and further states that Fourth Year Review Committees are instructed that the review is ‘not a tenure review,’” the docket reads.

Members of the Fourth Year Review Committee and Marketing Department Chair Adam Brasel encouraged Nikolova to pursue opportunities to demonstrate research independence from her co-authors, according to both the lawsuit and BC. 

“Brasel informed Nikolova that she must develop a stronger argument that she was the key driver of her research separate from her advisory committee and that she must demonstrate that she was engaged in independent scholarship, which he informed Nikolova was a ‘key theme’ at CSOM,” the docket reads.

The lawsuit alleges that Nikolova distinguished herself as a top marketing scholar in her cohort prior to having her first child in 2019 and taking maternity leave—for which she was granted a one-year extension on her tenure clock. BC denies this allegation.

“BC denies that Nikolova had distinguished herself as one of the top marketing scholars in her cohort, and BC denies that Nikolova had exceeded every performance standard BC had set for her,” the docket reads.

During her second pregnancy in 2021, Nikolova applied to be an associate professor with tenure. Nine members of BC’s marketing department voted unanimously that Nikolova should be promoted with tenure, according to the lawsuit. 

The Promotion and Tenure Committee (PTC) then unanimously voted not to recommend Nikolova for promotion with tenure, according to BC.

The PTC was not qualified to review Nikolova’s work because none of the PTC’s members were marketing scholars, had taught marketing courses, or had published in top marketing journals, the lawsuit alleges. BC denies this claim.

“BC states that all members of the PTC had the ability to determine the independence, quality, and impact of Nikolova’s research,” the docket reads.

University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., then wrote a letter to Nikolova in February 2022, informing her that her application for promotion with tenure was denied, according to both the lawsuit and BC’s docket.

According to the suit, in March of 2022, Nikolova met with the deans of CSOM, Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley, and Leahy to discuss the denial of her application. During this meeting, Leahy implied that Nikolova “was (or should be) more committed to being a wife and mother than to her work,” the lawsuit alleges. 

BC denies this allegation, saying that during the meeting, Nikolova indicated she had a strong commitment to her family and wished to remain at BC.

“BC states that following their meeting Nikolova wrote an email to President Leahy, in which she thanked President Leahy for his ‘kindness, thoughtfulness, care and encouragement,’” the docket reads.

In April of 2022, Nikolova submitted a complaint to the Faculty Review Panel (FRP) and Leahy regarding discrimination in her tenure application. After reviewing the claim, the FRP issued a report claiming it found several instances where the PTC failed to consistently review Nikolova’s tenure application, according to the lawsuit.

“BC states that it denies the accuracy of some of the FRP’s findings,” the docket reads. “President Leahy declined to follow the recommendation of the FRP.”

Nikolova continued to excel in her field and on each of the metrics that BC uses to evaluate applications for tenure and reapplied for promotion with tenure in August 2022, the lawsuit alleges. BC denies these allegations.

“Provost Quigley, among other matters, stated that the PTC discussed its concerns about the quality, independence, and impact of Nikolova’s research and was concerned about Nikolova’s overreliance on papers with multiple authors and senior advisors,” the docket reads.

In February of 2023, Leahy once again denied Nikolova’s application for promotion with tenure. Nikolova then met with Leahy in March of 2023 while she was pregnant with her third child, according to the suit.

“At the beginning of this meeting, President Leahy pointed to her belly and said, ‘I see you’re taking good care of the family!’ or words close to that effect,” the lawsuit reads.

BC denies these allegations.

“BC denies that President Leahy and Dean Boynton made any gender-stereotyped statements,” the docket reads.

Nikolova claims she was forced to leave BC in 2023 and that the University “threw her to the curb like a bag of trash,” the lawsuit states. BC denies these allegations and claims it provided her with one additional year of employment before she would be required to leave.

“When BC denied promotion with tenure, BC notified Nikolova that she would be required to leave BC following a terminal one-year contract,” the docket reads. “Answering further, BC offered Nikolova an additional year of employment with all the benefits of employment at BC.”

According to the lawsuit, the University “acted in bad faith” when it failed to follow its own promotion and tenure standards and denied Nikolova promotion with tenure. BC denies these claims.

“BC acted in good faith with legitimate reasons at all times,” the docket reads.

As for the $1.7 million in damages the lawsuit calls on BC to pay, the University rejects claims that Nikolova is owed any compensation.

“BC denies that Nikolova is entitled to the relief she requests or any relief,” the docket reads.

February 8, 2024

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