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].