Law Schools

UC Berkeley law dean takes indefinite leave amid sex harassment allegations

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University of California at Berkeley law dean Sujit Choudhry took an indefinite leave of absence on Wednesday, a day after his former assistant filed a lawsuit claiming he sexually harassed her.

Choudhry will remain a faculty member and will be paid for that position, report the Associated Press, the National Law Journal (sub. req.), the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Daily Californian.

The suit (PDF) by Tyann Sorrell says at first Choudhry gave large bear hugs at the start and end of the work day, and progressed to kissing her on the cheek. Over time, “the hugs became tighter and more lingering and the kissing more intimate” as the kisses landed closer to her mouth, the suit says.

Sorrell said she complained to the person who was then serving as law school chief of staff, but her complaints weren’t forwarded to superiors. Finally, Sorrell sent Choudhry an email saying she felt violated by the hugging and kissing, and forwarded it to the human resources department.

The university investigation that followed, completed in July, found Choudhry failed to understand the power dynamic and the effect of his actions, and he had violated the school’s sexual harassment policy, according to a statement by Berkeley’s executive vice chancellor and provost Claude Steele. Investigators found Choudhry also hugged and kissed other female employees, but there was never any sexual intent.

Steele said that, as a result of the probe, Choudhry’s pay was cut by 10 percent for a year, and he was required to write a letter of apology and to go to counseling at his own expense.

The Daily Californian published a statement by Choudhry. “While I disagree with the plaintiff’s claims and allegations, and will defend against them, I am unfortunately unable to comment on the substance of the lawsuit,” he said. The statement said he was taking a leave of absence “to ensure that this lawsuit does not become a distraction for the law school, the university and our community.”

Sorrell is on paid administrative leave. Her suit says Steele told her he didn’t take stronger action against Choudhry because he didn’t want to ruin the dean’s career.

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