Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. accused of lewd talk, objectifying women

Fryer called the accusations ‘‘patently false’’ and denies ever discriminating against or harassing anyone in his lab.

for Health Science - 20macarthur - CAMBRIDGE MA -  September 17- Roland Fryer, Economist and Harvard Professor on campus September 17, 2011. (Photo by Jodi Hilton/Getty Images)
Roland Fryer Jr. –Getty Images, File

BOSTON (AP) — A well-known Harvard University economist has been accused of creating a ‘‘sexually hostile’’ work environment by talking about sex, making inappropriate comments and objectifying women in his research lab, according to lawyers for a woman who has filed complaints with the school and the state.

Roland Fryer Jr., who leads an education research and development lab at the university, called the allegations ‘‘patently false’’ and denies ever discriminating against or harassing anyone in his lab.

The woman first went to Harvard officials with her concerns last summer, but the school failed to act, said her lawyers, Naomi Shatz and Monica Shah.

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The lawyers say her complaints with Harvard and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination are ‘‘supported by ample documentary evidence and witnesses’’ and said they expect the woman will ‘‘obtain justice through those proceedings.’’

The allegations were first reported by The Harvard Crimson, which reported that another person has filed a complaint against Fryer with the school and that Fryer has been barred from going into the Education Innovation Laboratory, known as EdLabs.

Fryer, who researches race and inequality, was awarded a MacArthur Foundation ‘‘Genius Grant’’ in 2011 and was the first African-American to win a prestigious award given to a top economist under 40 in 2015. Among his research is a widely debated study on the role of racial bias in police use of force.

A Harvard spokeswoman said the school is aware of the concerns raised about the working environment in the lab, but would not discuss individual cases.

Fryer said in a statement released through his lawyer that he has strived to make EdLabs an inclusive environment.

‘‘I fully recognize the seriousness of all forms of discrimination in our society, and I have dedicated my entire academic career to battling for equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other category that may divide us,’’ Fryer said.

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Fryer’s attorney, George Leontire, also released letters from other colleagues who praised the economist and said they had positive experiences working with him.

Tanaya Devi, who was a research assistant at the lab for three years and continues to work with Fryer, rejected the idea that the lab’s environment is abusive or hostile.

‘‘To make these deeply disturbing allegations about him and his lab without considering the experiences of those who have worked with him the longest seems like an incredibly grave act of injustice,’’ Devi said in the letter.

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