Sujit Choudhry sues UC system over sex harassment discipline

Sujit Choudhry

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Former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry sued the UC Board of Regents — among other university-related parties — on Thursday, alleging that he was the victim of racial discrimination and that the university was attempting to deprive him of his reputation and career.

The lawsuit comes after campus outcry over Choudhry’s return to campus this fall as a Berkeley Law faculty member, despite having resigned as dean in March after allegations of sexual harassment came to light. A campus Title IX office found that his behavior toward his former executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell, violated UC sexual misconduct policies.

In March, UC President Janet Napolitano, who is named in the lawsuit, called for a second disciplinary hearing for Choudhry, which could result in Choudhry being fired. He initially was punished with a 10 percent cut to his dean salary for one year, among other sanctions, and campus officials were widely criticized for implementing punishments that many have called too lenient.

The lawsuit alleges that “no one has ever suggested that Professor Choudhry’s conduct was sexually motivated or predatory” and accuses Napolitano of using Choudhry’s case to “improve the University’s image as well as her own.”

In two grievances filed in the past year, Choudhry has challenged the initiation of the disciplinary proceedings against him by UC Berkeley’s Academic Senate division per Napolitano’s request.

“By targeting Professor Choudhry, who is of South Asian descent and a non-U.S. citizen, the University hopes to deflect attention from its failure to meaningfully punish Caucasian faculty and administrators who were found to have committed appalling sexual misconduct, and from the fact that it deserted Ms. Sorrell,” the lawsuit alleged.

Choudhry’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

In addition to the UC regents and Napolitano, Choudhry’s lawsuit also names UC Berkeley administrators Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ, Vice Provost for the Faculty Benjamin Hermalin and former vice provost for the faculty Janet Broughton as defendants.

“At this point what can be said is that the University intends to mount a vigorous and successful defense,” said UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email. A UC spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

UC Berkeley has been grappling with a string of high-profile sexual harassment scandals in the past two years. In October 2015, former astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. In addition, Graham Fleming was removed from his role as Berkeley Global Campus ambassador in March, after having resigned in April 2015 from his post as vice chancellor for research amid allegations of sexual harassment.

In the past five years, UC Berkeley’s Title IX office has found that 19 campus employees violated UC sexual harassment policies.

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks and Anderson Lanham at [email protected].