Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law sued for sexual harassment

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Update 03/09/16: Since the publication of this article, UC Berkeley Law School Dean Sujit Choudhry has taken an indefinite leave of absence from his position.  

The dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law is being sued by his executive assistant for sexual harassment, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

The complaint names UC Berkeley Law School Dean Sujit Choudhry and the University of California Board of Regents as defendants in the lawsuit filed by attorneys for Tyann Sorrell, who began her position as executive assistant to the dean at Berkeley Law in 2012.

Sorrell is suing for eight causes of action, including sexual harassment, retaliation, failure to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment and retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, failure to discharge a mandatory statutory duty and violation of business and professions code.

The complaint states that when Choudhry took over as dean of the law school in July 2014, he gave Sorrell unwanted bear hugs and kisses, among other sexual contact from July 2014 to March 2015.

In July, UC Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination found that Choudhry had violated the university’s sexual harassment policies, according to the complaint. During the investigation, Choudhry allegedly admitted to hugging, kissing, messaging or caressing Sorrell at least multiple times per week, as well as hugging and kissing other female employees.

As a result, the complaint stated, Choudhry was disciplined with a 10 percent reduction in salary for one year and required to write a letter of apology to Sorrell. Sorrell alleged in the lawsuit that she was told by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele that he had “seriously considered terminating the Dean” but had decided not to because “it would ruin the Dean’s career.”

Campus officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sorrell is a former victim of domestic and sexual abuse, according to the complaint. After the OPHD began its investigation, she used sick and vacation time to take leave from the university and currently remains on leave.

The complaint says that besides Sorrell, other women were also subjected to unwanted sexual interactions with Choudhry, including the dean’s chief of staff, Areca Smit, and Berkeley Law’s senior assistant dean and chief operating officer, Georgia Giatras.

The complaint alleges the UC Board of Regents knew of the probable injurious consequences of Choudry’s continued employment, but failed to take adequate action by choosing to continue his employment and preventing him from conducting “unlawful, discriminatory harassment.”

Sorrell is asking for monetary compensation that include damages “sufficient to punish and make an example out of all individual Defendants,” according to the complaint. In addition, Sorrell is demanding attorneys’ fees and costs of the suit be paid as well.

This is not the first time a dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law has been accused of sexual harassment. In 2002, former dean John Dwyer resigned amid allegations that he sexually harassed a former law student.

In October 2015, then-astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy resigned from his position after he was implicated in a breach of campus sexual harassment policies in June 2015. His resignation followed public uproar over the discovery of allegations of sexual misconduct spanning several years.

Check back for updates.

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks, Katy Abbott and Suhauna Hussain at [email protected].

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  • Joe Joe

    I say put Choudhry through the same Title IX star chambers that you put accused male students through.

  • Anonymous

    Or Charlotte McKinney.

  • Anonymous

    It’s always more fun when the gall does the “harassing.” Kate Upton can “feel me all over” anytime.

  • neallehman

    This is a story one might expect from Podunk College, not from one of the nation’s leading law schools. And the way the administration has handled it – and is handling it – is absolutely shameful.

  • Tohmsa Hatrman

    Can we get him to take Yoo with him? Why does Cal need a torturer on staff?

  • Pyrrho Nist

    Aside from why is Choudhry still a faculty member, the more important question is why hasn’t Provost Claude Steele been fired.

    And then we have the Neapolitan UC President who doesn’t have the DNA to demonstrate leadership and accountability for the whole Berkeley chain of command. Surprisingly, she is a woman.

    Good grief! I hope the Berkeley campus at least shames these idiots off campus…all the way up to Provost Steele.

    • laura

      Student fees rise as UC expands administration, what exactly does Steele bring to the mission of UC. Remember Gibor Basri vice chancellor of equity and inclusion protect Marcy in the same manner.

  • Pyrrho Nist

    Aside from why is Choudhry still a faculty member, the more important question is why hasn’t Provost Claude Steele been fired.

    This could have been worse. Choudhry’s Indian. Could have been gang rape on a city bus that Provost Steele tolerated.

    And then we have the Neapolitan UC President who doesn’t have the DNA to demonstrate leadership and accountability for the whole Berkeley chain of command. Surprisingly, she is a woman.

    Good grief! I hope the Berkeley campus at least shames these idiots off campus…all the way up to Provost Steele.

  • Andrew

    A 10% reduction for one year and an apology letter seem as serious as a frowny sticker. Maybe next time Choudry can go to detention instead. Congrats on standing strong against harassment UCB. Absolutely appalling and indicative of why such abuses of power will continue in the UC system.

  • ELS

    I’m appalled at how much more consideration Provost Steele gave to Dean Choudhry’s career than to the career and life of the woman Choudhry attacked. This is especially egregious given that the University had announced it would review its sexual harassment policies and training techniques in the wake of the 2002 case involving the law school’s then-dean, John Dwyer, who resigned after he was accused of sexually harassing a former law student. If this is what they came up with, they should by now realize that it’s not sufficient. The UC Berkeley higher administration seems not to understand that sexual harassment and assault constitute important and significant impediments to women’s education and their progress in the workplace. I am sorry to have to say this, but it is time for federal funding agencies (NSF, NIH, USDA, DOE, DOD) to enforce Title IX.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      I can testify that all employees of UC Berkeley now have to undergo a “cyber”-training about sexual harassment.

      Because certain administrators can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves.

  • E D

    As a man, I am disgusted with all kinds of sexual harassment implicated by men. If you are a creep then go back to your basement and satısfy your dirty intentions on yourself, not others. Men in power they need to go thrugh a psych test before they were given that role. Creepy creeped creep.Fire him, throw him in jailç and then give him a job as a executive assistant at somehwere else…Grrrrrrr…

    • Gerry Delonzo

      Here we go…another pathetic white knight

      • Spencer Jacobson

        The Dean admitted to all this, why shouldn’t he be fired?

      • Anonymous

        One with a “cocktail weiner.”

    • Anonymous

      It’s always more fun when the gal does the “harassing.”

  • Emily Montan

    Thanks for saying that Jeff and clarifying it with, “if this is all true.” I’m hoping that more students and staff who are harassed, sexually harassed, etc. Use this as an example of bravery for those women who stepped forward. I know it would be so hard but with enough people taking this issue “out of the closet” we can slow this insidious behavior down.

    • Anonymous

      Kate Upton can “harass” me anytime.

  • Jeff

    If this is all true (and he admits it) then why wasn’t he fired? In spite of his degrees, honors, and awards, he is a predator and has no place on the Berkeley campus–and most certainly not in a administrative position of trust and authority. He is no exception to our standards of harassment no matter what he might think, and he seems to be lacking in common sense and common decency. I’m sure he’s doing quite nicely on his 10% salary reduction–while he besmirches the name of the university. Where are the adults? He should be summarily dismissed. We don’t need him. He is replaceable. He should be replaced.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Hey, go easy on the administration. They’ve got their hands full trying to figure out how to offload the impact of Berkeley’s budget shortfall onto its hourly workers.

      • Jeff

        Don’t make light of this serious situation by changing the subject. As I think more about this, and as disgusted as I am by Choudry’s behavior (he is, after all the dean of the LAW school), I find myself enraged by the behavior of Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele. A letter? A 10% cut in an already overpaid salary? This little slap on the wrist if well beyond disgusting. He heaps more shame on the University by this protection of a career that should be ended immediately.

        • Nunya Beeswax

          The tone of my post may have been sarcastic, but the point is that the administration of Cal acts to protect its own. The response of Nicholas Dirks and the rest of the top admins on campus to the budget crisis this university is facing has been to do what they can to preserve their own positions. Sadly, it’s not very surprising that administrators behave the same way when one of their own is accused of wrongdoing.

        • Anonymous

          It’s always more fun when the gal does the “harassing.” Woof.

        • sarah

          Take it easy, fella. You are asking a hypothetical. You have absolutely zero idea on this earth whether or not these allegations are baloney. So, please stop with the moralizing. It’s extremely unbecoming.

      • Tohmsa Hatrman

        So they can afford torturers, I suppose. Yoo, I am looking at you, yeah.

      • Deapster

        Remind us again if UC hourly workers make more than $15 an hour, and if you do not then get a job at Micky Dee’s.

        • Nunya Beeswax

          Oh look, a free-marketard.

    • http://manhood101.com Anita Sarkeesian

      Do women lie about rape? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDCKp25Mk28 Now we have VIDEO EVIDENCE!

    • Alyssa Shelton

      You don’t need to say “if this is all true” since he openly admitted it. That kind of sentiment implies you think it is common for women to lie about rape, which happens very very rarely. It’s much much more common for women to report nothing at all. Just try to be careful how you frame your writing about victims.

      • Jeff

        You assume incorrectly.

      • brookstyle

        very very huh?

      • malnatik9

        Um, that kind of sentiment (if this is all true), could just as easily mean that reading info from reporters is hardly the standard of “truthiness”. Many times, what’s reported, is not the truth, or at least not all the truth, so when reading ANY report, one is well advised to start with “if this is true”, and go from there.

        Additionally, leaping from that healthy skepticism, to the accusation that “you think it’s common for women to lie about rape” is a massively huge leap. As to the “lie about rape, which happens very rarely” – well, rare isn’t never, and there have been some pretty big rape accusations lobbed at totally innocent men in the last decade, so a healthy skepticism on that count is also well deserved in any rape case, but particularly where money is involved.

        I’m not saying this woman wasn’t harassed by this creep, and since he admits it (assuming that part is true), then he should have been fired, and the folks who put his career above the women he was harassing should be fired, as well.

        I just object strongly to your admonishment that all women who cry rape are honest and trustworthy, and no one should ever look at them as potentially making it up. Frankly, any woman who falsely cries rape, should suffer the exact same punishment she advocates for the men she falsely accuses, and should be marked for life as a sexual predator, just as the men would be.

        And people who run around admonishing others for facts not in evidence, should think twice about their own biases, and how they frame their writing about others. No one need be careful about how they frame their comments, to please you. Pull your head out, and realize that sometimes people are going to say something that offends you, and it’s OK, you’re gonna live through it.

        • Alyssa Shelton

          My only point is that it’s common in these types of cases for people to place more blame on victims than victims of other types of crimes and that reinforces rape culture. I wasn’t even accusing this particular person/comment of doing that, I just was trying to give constructive feedback about how we talk about these things. I do not expect people to make comments “to please me”, come on.

    • Anonymous

      It’s always more fun when the gal does the “harassing.”