Harvard Business School Professor Sues The School For $25 Million

Harvard Business School

HBS Professor Francesca Gino Wrote ‘It Pays To Break The Rules.’ She is now accused’ of fabricating research data

Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino has reached the breaking point. After being accused of fabricating research data and put on unpaid administrative leave by HBS, her once-promising career in tatters, Gino has filed a $25 million lawsuit against her university employer, Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar, and a blog that initially published allegations over her research.

“Today I had no choice but to file a lawsuit against Harvard University and members of the Data Colada group, who worked together to destroy my career and reputation despite admitting they have no evidence proving their allegations,” wrote Gino on her LinkedIn feed. “While claiming to stand for process excellence, they reached outrageous conclusions based entirely on inference, assumption, and implausible leaps of logic. 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” (see The Rise & Fall Of A Harvard Business School Superstar).

An award-winning behavioral scientist at Harvard Business School, Gino has been accused of fabricating data in at least four published research papers, and possibly many more. A spate of news articles have detailed instances in which Gino is accused of fabricating data and manipulating results. And at least one paper – a study examining ways to elicit more honest responses – has since been retracted.


In her LinkedIn post, Gino makes clear she has done nothing wrong. “I want to be very clear: I have never, ever falsified data or engaged in research misconduct of any kind,” she wrote.

The allegations surfaced as far back as 2021 when Data Colada – a blog written by prominent data and behavioral scientists Uri Simonsohn (Professor of Behavioral Science at ESADE Business School), Leif Nelson (Ewald T. Grether Professor in Business Administration & Marketing at Berkeley Haas School of Business), and Joe Simmons(Dorothy Silberberg Professor of Applied Statistics At The Wharton School) — published a blog post alleging that an experiment in a 2012 paper likely included fraudulent data. The paper, “Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end,” was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It has since been retracted.

On June 16, one of Gino’s co-authors, Max H. Bazerman, reported to the Chronicle that Harvard believed that one of the studies overseen by Gino in the paper had falsified results. A day later, Data Colada announced it is publishing a four-part series detailing fraud found in four of Gino’s papers. The first, titled “Clusterfake,” was published on June 17 and the latest, “The Cheaters Are Out of Order,”  published on June 23. Each post in the series has detailed receipts for their allegations.


In her lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, Gino says she was initially notified by Harvard of fraud allegations against her work in October of 2021. Five months later, in April of 2022, she was informed that Harvard would conduct its own investigation. Based on the blog’s assertions, Harvard launched an internal 18-month investigation into her work, convening a three-person investigative committee. The committee was chaired by HBS Professor Emerita Teresa Amabile, serving as Chair, and included HBS Professor Emeritus Robert Kaplan.

The lawsuit alleges that the committee interviewed six of Gino’s collaborators and two research assistants, all of whom defended the integrity of Gino’s practices and said they had no evidence Gino had ever pressured anyone to produce a specific result. Harvard and Dean Datar “negotiated an agreement” with the blog writers in which the university would investigate Gino “in exchange for Data Colada’s silence” during the probe, according to the lawsuit.

“Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, Harvard Business School further agreed to disclose the outcome of the investigation to Data Colada, who could then subject Plaintiff’s work and professional reputation to public disparagement on its blog,” according to the lawsuit.

In March of this year, the committee found that she was responsible for “research misconduct.” Dean Datar then issued “overly harsh” sanctions on Gino. Datar’s decision immediately barred Gino from Harvard’s campus and banned her from publishing or circulating research through the business school’s platforms, the suit says.

“On June 13, 2023, Dean Datar accepted the investigation committee’s conclusions and imposed unwarranted and excessive sanctions against Plaintiff, a tenured Professor, which included placing her on unpaid administrative leave (a decision to strip Plaintiff of her entire salary) and immediately removing her from all of her teaching duties, research responsibilities, mentorship of students, and her titled professorship,” according to the lawsuit.

Gino, however, maintains that Harvard failed to make its determination of misconduct in accordance with its own policies. The lawsuit alleges that the committee did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Gino “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” falsified or fabricated data, as Harvard policy required, and “ignored” exculpatory evidence. The suit also charges Data Colada with engaging in a “vicious, defamatory smear campaign.” Instead, Gino claims that Harvard created a new interim research misconduct policy specifically to adjudicate Gino’s case after Data Colada “threatened” to post its allegations and subject the business school to “public scrutiny.”


“Harvard Business School and Dean Datar ensured the impairment of Plaintiff’s professional reputation and standing by announcing on the Harvard Business School website that Plaintiff was placed on ‘administrative leave,’ and aggressively contacting Plaintiff’s editors and co-authors about retracting the research papers at issue in the investigation,” according to the lawsuit. “Beginning on June 17, 2023, and continuing through June 30, 2023, Data Colada launched a vicious, defamatory smear campaign against Plaintiff in a four-part series of blog posts which falsely asserted that Plaintiff engaged in “data fraud.” Data Colada lodged this incredibly damaging accusations against Plaintiff despite having no evidence that Plaintiff engaged in any act of “data fraud.” Data Colada implied that they were in possession of non-disclosed evidence to support their baseless accusations—their own report which was, in large part, based on sheer speculation and Harvard’s investigation report, which they had not seen.”

She further claims that the school discriminated against her because of her gender. “Harvard Business School discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of sex when it elected to investigate her under a newly created policy specific to her case as opposed to relying on its existing policy and procedures,” the lawsuit alleges. “Harvard has treated similarly situated male professors differently. It recently investigated allegations of research misconduct against a male junior faculty member pursuant to its existing “Research Integrity” policy, (which, unlike the Interim Policy, did not specify any particular sanctions for violations), and its usual Faculty Review Board procedures, a policy and procedures that Harvard University chose to abandon in Plaintiff’s case. In contrast to its treatment of Plaintiff, Harvard Business School protected the confidentiality of the male junior faculty member, and it subsequently promoted him to tenure.”

Gino is seeking damages of at least $25 million and injunctive relief, according to the suit.

Her decision to sue the school, its dean and Data Colata opens the door to a new chapter in what has been a highly successful academic career. When she joined Harvard Business School as an associate professor in July of 2010, Gino had turned down offers from several other prominent business schools, including Wharton, NYU Stern, and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. In July of 2014, she was granted tenure and promoted to full professor, joining “the small minority of female professors to achieve tenure at HBS,” she noted. After a decade-plus at HBS, Gino has taught courses on negotiation, decision-making, collaboration, conflict resolution, and diversity, equity and inclusion at both the MBA and Executive Education levels.

“Harvard’s complete and utter disregard for evidence, due process and confidentiality should frighten all academic researchers. The university’s lack of integrity in its review process stripped Professor Gino of her rights, career and reputation ­ and failed miserably with respect to gender equity,” Andrew T. Miltenberg, Gino’s lawyer, said in a statement. “The bias and uneven application of oversight in this case is appalling.”

Harvard Business School declined to comment on the lawsuit.


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