UC Berkeley lecturer sues over alleged bathroom sex solicitation

A UC Berkeley lecturer who was arrested over a year ago for allegedly soliciting lewd acts in a restroom on campus filed a federal class-action lawsuit last week citing sexual discrimination and an invalid basis of arrest.

According to the lawsuit, in October 2010, the lecturer — whose name is not identified in court documents — had been seeking “intimate conduct with consenting adults to take place in private,” which he signaled in a campus bathroom by tapping his toe and sending a note to the person in the adjacent stall. According to the UCPD crime logs, the incident occurred in Dwinelle Hall.

Unknown to the lecturer, the person was Reza Pourfarhani, a UCPD officer working undercover. The two corresponded via a note under the stall partition and, after the lecturer indicated his interest in intimate conduct, Pourfarhani suggested meeting outside, saying that he “knew a better place to go to,” the lawsuit states.

Outside the restroom, Pourfarhani and another UCPD officer arrested the lecturer for loitering around a toilet and intending to solicit or engage in a lewd act in public.

However, the lawsuit contends that the lecturer did not have these intentions.

“The arrest was false because my client never engaged in sexual conduct nor did he solicit sexual conduct intending to perform the act in public,” said Bruce Nickerson, the lecturer’s attorney, in an email.

UCPD could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit names the UC Board of Regents, UCPD, campus police chief Mitch Celaya and the two officers involved in the arrest as defendants. The lecturer, as well as any other person on whose behalf class-action status is being sought, remains unnamed. The defendants in the lawsuit have yet to respond in court.

In January 2011, a Superior Court judge dismissed the criminal charges against the lecturer, following a demurrer — a pleading that challenges the sufficiency of the opposing party’s claim — that Nickerson filed, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, the lecturer had “become mentally upset, distressed and aggravated and suffered great humiliation, embarrassment, and mental anguish” as a result of the arrest and is now seeking general damages for his distress.

Nickerson and his client are currently pursuing class-action status for the lawsuit under the claim that police officers’ practices of only targeting same-sex individuals is a form of sexual discrimination that violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

“The arrest was discriminatory because the university police (or any other police department for that matter) never arrests men for soliciting women in a public place for non-monetary sex intending to perform the act in private,” Nickerson said in the email. “Only gay persons are arrested for that type of solicitation.”

Nickerson added that, if class-action status in the suit is achieved, he may be able to acquit other persons who have been arrested in similar situations. He said this arrest “makes one wonder how far we have actually progressed in gay rights.”

“It is truly sad that on the campus of a progressive university, the police are doing the same things they did back in the 50’s,” he said in the email.

Amy Wang covers academics and administration.