Berkeley Law dean resigns amid sexual harassment allegations, lawsuit

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Update 03/11/16: This article has been updated to reflect new information from Tyann Sorrell and an apology letter from Sujit Choudhry. 

The UC Berkeley School of Law dean resigned from his position Thursday, effective immediately, in light of sexual harassment allegations made against him by his executive assistant.

The resignation, accepted by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, comes after an announcement Wednesday that Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry would be taking an indefinite leave of absence. His executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell, sued Choudhry and the UC Board of Regents on Tuesday, alleging that the campus failed to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, among other allegations.

Choudhry will remain a tenured member of the school’s faculty.

“We believe the dean’s resignation is an outcome in the best interests of Berkeley Law and the university as a whole,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele and Dirks in a statement. “We are under no illusion that a resignation could or even should bring this matter and broader, related issues to a close.”

Sorrell’s lawsuit alleged that the sexual harassment began in September 2014 — after Choudhry took over as dean of the law school — and ended in March 2015 when Sorrell began using sick and vacation time. According to the complaint, Choudhry hugged, kissed or caressed Sorrell multiple times per week, among other allegations.

In July 2015, a confidential campus investigation found that Choudhry’s behavior violated the university’s sexual harassment policies.

“Lack of protections continued to occur and that was what really let me know this is a no-win,” Sorrell said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “Without representation, they’re not hearing me, and they’re not understanding the magnitude of his actions.”

In an apology letter Choudhry wrote to Sorrell — which she received in October during her meeting with Steele — he said he never intended his actions to demean or disrespect Sorrell.

“I take full responsibility for the indignity you have suffered,” Choudhry wrote in the letter. “I have reflected upon my conduct … and every day I wish I had the opportunity to go back and mend things.”

After a meeting with law school faculty Thursday morning, Dirks and Steele said in the statement, they acknowledged that the initial decision not to remove Choudhry from his position was “the subject of legitimate criticism.”

According to the statement, Dirks and Steele will be reaching out to faculty leaders Friday to take steps that will ensure “a supportive and safe environment for every single person on this campus.”

This is not the first time a Berkeley Law dean has been accused of sexual harassment. In 2002, former dean John Dwyer resigned amid allegations that he sexually harassed a former law student. When he stepped down as dean, Dwyer also left his tenured faculty position.

Sorrell said there are systemic issues regarding how the university handles complaints, especially through human resources offices and the campus’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. She added that the campus response to sexual harassment allegations against then-astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy in October is indicative of this fact.

“Just looking at all the evidence of the history of what’s been going on, I am so appalled … and so deeply offended (by) the message that victims and survivors of situations like this have no value and almost little voice based on the university’s response,” Sorrell said. She remains on paid administrative leave.

An interim dean for Berkeley Law has yet to be announced.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.