The University of California-Berkeley Law School dean Sujit Choudhry announced an indefinite leave of absence from his post last Wednesday (March 9) after his executive assistant sued him for allegations of sexual harassment. In a statement from the school on Wednesday, Provost Claude Steele said Choudhry will remain on campus as a faculty member and will receive a professor’s salary while an interim dean steps in.
Tyann Sorrell, Choudhry’s assistant, filed the lawsuit against Choudhry and the university on Tuesday. According to reports from CBS News, Sorrell is suing the university because Choudhry only received a 10% pay cut following a university investigation released July 2015 in which he acknowledged “kissing and touching her repeatedly.”
“We feel very strongly that the law school failed to take Ms. Sorrell’s complaints seriously enough,” her lawyer, John Winer, said in the lawsuit. “It is especially concerning that this admitted sexual harassment was perpetrated by the dean of one of the most highly respected law schools in the country. Someone who certainly should have known better.”
‘IN RESPONSE TO HIS KISSES SHE WOULD FREEZE AND TRY TO PRETEND IT DIDN’T HAPPEN’
A written report from the investigation released by UC Berkeley on Tuesday says the only dispute is between the frequency of which Choudhry sexually harassed. Sorrell, the married mother of five children, claims Choudhry repeatedly gave her unwanted shoulder and arm rubs, kissed her on her face, and once placed her hand on his waist. While Sorrell claims the actions happened on a “near-daily” basis, Choudhry says it happened once or twice a week at most.
“Invariably, in response to Choudhry’s hugs she would keep her arms at her sides and make her body go limp until she thought he was done,” the lawsuit reads. “Then, so as not to upset him, she would politely push him off. In response to his kisses she would freeze and try to pretend it did not happen.”
Sorrell says the unwanted actions began taking place within months of Choudhry becoming the dean in July 2014 and she never had an issue in the two years she worked with the school’s previous dean. During the campus investigation, Choudhry said the actions were emotional and supportive in nature and not sexual. But he also admitted not offering the same “support” to male employees and “expressed regret” for his actions.
“How often do you have to say, ‘It’s a workplace’? People ought to be able to come to work without being groped, as a minimal standard,” UC Berkeley President Janet Napolitano said to the Sacramento Bee editorial board following the announcement.
TWO HIGH PROFILE SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES IN THE PAST YEAR AT UC BERKELEY
Steele confirmed to CBS News, that the campus investigators concluded the Choudhry “demonstrated a failure to understand the power dynamic and the effect of his actions on the plaintiff personally and in her employment.” The investigators concluded Choudhry had violated campus policies. Steele said the plan to dock the dean’s salary by 10% for one year, make him apologize, complete counseling and allow Sorrell to go on leave with full pay “would be an appropriate and effective response, and would produce the necessary changes in his behavior.” Choudhry approached Steele on Wednesday and said he wanted to step down to not bring distractions to the law school. His pay will drop from $415,000 to $284,200.
This isn’t the first sexual harassment case UC Berkeley has botched recently. Just six months ago, Geoffrey Marcy, a prominent astronomer at UC Berkeley, resigned after a similar campus investigation was released. The investigation found Marcy had violated the university’s sexual harassment policies with multiple female students dating back to 2001. Similarly, the school did not ask for Marcy’s resignation. It only came after a massive national outcry.
In 2002, John Dwyer, the dean of Berkeley Law at the time, resigned after a female law student accused Dwyer of molesting her. The event allegedly took place at the female student’s apartment after a night of drinking.
CAMPUS SEXUAL MISCONDUCT POLICY CHANGES NECESSARY
Of course, sexual harassment and assault are hot topics now at American universities. Last fall, the Association of American Universities released the results to a robust survey that found 23% of female college students have experienced unwanted sexual conduct at least once in college. At the end of 2014, Harvard Law announced a change in school-wide sexual assault policies after responding improperly to two alleged sexual assault cases from female students, sparking another nation-wide debate on how American universities should handle sexual assault cases.
“We can and must do better as a campus administration,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Steele said. “We must move in the direction of stronger sanctions, and in doing this we want and need the broad input of the campus community.”
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