Former Law Dean Files Suit Against Berkeley

by Naomi Nishihara on

The former dean of UC-Berkeley’s law school filed a federal lawsuit today (Sept. 15) accusing the university of racial bias in the way it responded to sexual harassment allegations against him.

In March 2015, then-Dean Sujit Choudhry was accused of sexually harassing his executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell. The university conducted an investigation, and a settlement was reached. But since then the university has continued to investigate the case, something it hasn’t done in other sexual harassment incidences involving white, U.S. citizen faculty, Choudhry contends.

According to the complaint, “By targeting Professor Choudhry, who is of South Asian descent and a non-U.S. citizen, the university hopes to deflect attention from its failure to meaningfully punish Caucasian faculty and administrators who were found to have committed appalling sexual misconduct.”

CONTINUING DISCIPLINE

Sujit Choudhry, former Dean of Berkeley Law Credit: Jason Doiy/The Recorder.

Sujit Choudhry, former dean of Berkeley Law. Jason Doiy/The Recorder

After the initial complaint against Choudhry, the university lowered his salary by 10% for one year, and as part of the settlement agreement he was required to participate in counseling.

But nearly a year later, Sorrell filed a civil suit against him, claiming that from September 2014 to March 2015 Choudhry would rub her shoulders and arms, kiss her cheek, and give her bear hugs, according to the Washington Post.

In response to the publicity, Choudhry stepped down as law school dean, holding only his faculty position. In March, University of California President Janet Napolitano ordered that disciplinary proceedings be launched. Choudhry’s suit is in response to this second investigation.

“A second investigation of identical conduct is not contemplated anywhere in UC-Berkeley’s written disciplinary policies,” the complaint states.

FAILURE TO PUNISH OTHER FACULTY AND ADMINISTRATORS

The lawsuit highlights the contrast between the continuing disciplinary action against Choudhry and the comparatively lax responses to other UC-Berkeley sexual harassment cases involving white, U.S. citizen professors, according to Law.com.

Examples include the case against Graham Fleming, former Berkeley vice chancellor for research. Fleming resigned from his post after being accused of sexual harassment, and since then has not faced further discipline or a second investigation, Law.com reports.

UC-Berkeley has faced a number of sexual harassment cases in recent years. (A list of sexual harassment scandals at the school was compiled by Mother Jones.) In August, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced he would resign after criticism of the way he has handled the cases, as well as his handling of the university budget. 

Choudhry will be represented by Zuckerman Spaeder, a law firm known for white-collar defense cases, as well as by San Francisco-based Futterman Dupree Dodd Croley Maier.

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