Former Berkeley Law dean files grievance over disciplinary process amid sex harassment allegations

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Update 4/25/16: This article has been updated to reflect interviews with faculty members and lawyers and a statement from a campus spokesperson.


Former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry filed a grievance letter with a campus faculty committee Friday, alleging that administrators violated campus policies by launching a second disciplinary process against him in the aftermath of recent sexual harassment allegations against him.

In the grievance, Choudhry stated that Chancellor Nicholas Dirks approved the original punishments that then-Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele brought against Choudhry in July 2015 after Choudhry was found to have violated UC sexual harassment policies.

In addition, the grievance noted that Steele initially declined to accept Choudhry’s offer to resign from his position as dean, though Choudhry stated that Steele changed his mind later that same day after meeting with Berkeley Law faculty.

“The second process now launched against me is duplicative (and) breaches multiple written and verbal assurances previously provided to me by the university,” Choudhry said in the letter, adding that UC President Janet Napolitano has “flagrantly and repeatedly breached the most basic rights to due process held by every Senate Faculty member at the University of California.”

On March 11, Napolitano asked that additional actions that could result in the termination of Choudhry’s current employment as a faculty member be taken, about eight months after Steele issued his original sanctions. The original sanctions included a 10 percent reduction of Choudhry’s dean salary for one year, counseling and a written apology to the complainant, Tyann Sorrell, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Choudhry on March 8.

Allegations of a duplicative process are incorrect, however, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. The Faculty Code of Conduct, Mogulof said, allows for both “administrative actions” against faculty members serving administrative roles and faculty discipline to take place if the respondent’s conduct violates the code.

“The administration’s steps have complied with University policy and reflect the seriousness of the conduct described in the investigative report issued by the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination,” Mogulof said in an email.

Berkeley Law professor Eric Rakowski said in an email, however, that everyone involved in Choudhry’s initial disciplinary process likely regarded the original punishment as a comprehensive set of sanctions for Choudhry’s misconduct rather than a “starter set” that administrators could amplify later “if that seemed politically or otherwise expedient.”

“Initiating a new disciplinary process against Choudhry now seems to me enormously unfair,” Rakowski said.

The grievance notes that Choudhry did not receive advance written notice of the second disciplinary process against him or the request that he remain off campus for the remainder of the semester.

“It’s very clear in this case that the motivation for this second do-over comes from the desire of some people to affect the way they appear to other people,” said Choudhry’s attorney William Taylor. “And that’s wrong and unfair.”

Choudhry cites a part of the Faculty Code of Conduct that states that faculty are to be judged by colleagues “in accordance with fair procedures and due process, in matters of promotion, tenure, and discipline, solely on the basis of (his) professional qualifications and professional conduct.”

“The only effective remedy for the breach of my rights described in this grievance is termination of the second and duplicative disciplinary process (because) there is no legitimate legal basis on which it may do so,” Choudhry said in the letter of grievance.

In light of campus handling of several high-profile campus sexual misconduct complaints, Napolitano has previously said it is the university’s collective responsibility to ensure that substantiated claims of sexual harassment and assault are handled fairly — with appropriate punishments — and in a timely manner.

Senior staff writer Alexander Barreira contributed to this report.

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