Trials and Litigation

Former Berkeley dean who was accused of harassing his assistant files race-discrimination action

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Sujit Choudhry, the former dean of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law accused of sexually harassing his executive assistant, filed a due process and equal protection action against the UC system on Thursday.

Choudhry resigned as dean after his assistant, Tyann Sorrell, filed a lawsuit against the university alleging that it mishandled her complaints, the Guardian reports. Choudhry faces losing tenure.

According to Sorrell, Choudhry repeatedly hugged and kissed her cheek, as well as caressing her arms and shoulders while she tried to type. She said that the unwanted touching was happening on a “near daily” basis, the Guardian reported in an earlier story. Choudhry’s complaint against the university describes them as “gestures of greeting and support.”

In April, William W. Taylor III, Choudhry’s lawyer, told the ABA Journal that his client didn’t deny he touched and kissed Sorrell, and said that “she wasn’t the only one” at work at work who received his affection. According to Taylor, Choudhry’s touching was similar to comforting your child with a kiss on the head.

“Remarkably, unlike the string of cases involving Caucasian faculty and administrators for which the university meted out almost no punishment—despite findings of pervasive, predatory sexual misconduct—no one has ever suggested that Professor Choudhry’s conduct was sexually motivated or predatory,” said Choudhry’s Thursday complaint.

The first investigation, which resulted in a July 2015 finding, held that Choudhry’s behavior violated university policy and showed a lack of judgment. Discipline included a 10 percent salary reduction for one year; an apology to Sorrell; and one-on-one coaching focused on keeping appropriate workplace standards.

Another set of disciplinary proceedings against Choudhry was launched in 2016, after Sorrell filed her lawsuit against the university. In March 2016, Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, asked that Choudhry, a constitutional comparative law professor, be banned from campus.

Had he known that a second investigation would take place, the San Francisco U.S. district court complaint states, Choudhry wouldn’t have accepted the findings of the first one. In April, Berkeley Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof told the ABA Journal that the faculty code of conduct clearly differentiates between faculty discipline and administrative actions taken against faculty members who serve administrative roles.

Choudhry is reportedly the first person of Indian origin to serve as dean at a top U.S. law school. His lawsuit alleges that the UC system has been more lenient with Caucasian faculty and administrators found to have committed sexual misconduct. It mentions two Berkeley professors who have tenure at the school, despite findings that the men behaved inappropriately with subordinate employees or students.

“President Napolitano and the University have made Professor Choudhry a pariah, repeatedly threatening to ‘ban’ him from campus and giving false information about his conduct to the national press,” the complaint states.

The university has refused to assign classes to Choudhry, a comparative constitutional law professor, according to the complaint, and circulated statements that students should “protect themselves,” considering his presence on campus.

In a letter published Friday by the Daily Californian, Choudhry acknowledged that his presence on campus has caused some law students confusion and concern.

“Let’s be clear: Sexual violence of all forms is horrendous and never, ever acceptable. I share and agree with your instinctive reaction to protect and support victims of sexual predation everywhere,” he wrote. “Let’s also be clear on this: I acted with no sexual intent toward Ms. Sorrell. I am not a predator and have never been accused of being one until now. In the face of public hysteria, I am the predator who never was, purportedly subject to a campus ban that never was.”

Inside Higher Ed reports that a Berkeley spokesman declined to discuss specifics, but stated that the school would be fighting the lawsuit.

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