Update 4/16/17: This article has been updated to reflect additional information acquired from UC Berkeley Law School lecturer Barbara Bryant.
The UC Board of Regents has reached a settlement to avoid tenure proceedings against former UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry and has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Tyann Sorrell, who served as Choudhry’s executive assistant.
As per the terms of Choudhry’s settlement with the regents, Choudhry agreed to pay a total of $50,000 to Sorrell’s attorneys, a contribution that his lawyer William Taylor called “relatively minimal.” Choudhry is also required to pay $50,000 to a charity or charities of Sorrell’s choice.
The settlement requires that the UC regents terminate the disciplinary process and withdraw all pending charges against Choudhry. Choudhry will also have to withdraw his complaint against the campus that alleges racial discrimination.
“Neither the REGENTS nor its officers (may state that) … CHOUDHRY acted with sexual intent or committed sexual assault … (or that) CHOUDHRY posed or poses a risk to faculty, students, or staff,” the settlement states.
Sorrell filed a lawsuit against Choudhry and the UC regents March 8, 2016, alleging that Choudhry sexually harassed her and the regents failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment and retaliation.
According to Leslie Levy, Sorrell’s attorney, all of the organizations Choudhry will be required to donate to are either nonprofits that work with survivors of harassment or sexual assault or work on policy issues surrounding sexual violence.
Choudhry’s settlement ensures that he will voluntarily resign May 31, 2018 and will remain a tenured member of the faculty of UC Berkeley Law School in good standing until that time. Choudhry will continue to perform his current administrative duties until the end of the 2016-17 school year and then will be away on unpaid sabbatical for the 2017-18 school year.
“All things considered, it was a settlement that was very much in his interest in getting the whole thing behind him,” Taylor said.
Barbara Bryant, UC Berkeley School of Law lecturer who has specialized in sexual harassment law, said because the university has given Choudhry ample time to find a new job and is not confirming his actions as sexual intent, the university could be treating the case as “lower-level incident.”
“I think that’s unfortunate,” Bryant said. “It creates the idea that if that harasser says, ‘Oh I didn’t mean it,’ that’s more important than how the target interpreted it.”
Sorrell does not agree with the settlement between the university and Choudhry and did not control its terms, according to Levy, who called the agreement “one more slap on the wrist” for the former law school dean.
Rosa Kwak, a member of the ASUC commission on sexual violence, said she has qualms with the university’s settlement with Choudhry and is disappointed that the university will not confirm the allegations of sexual misconduct.
“I think (Choudhry’s settlement) sort of perpetuates this toxic cycle on campus … where perpetrators, especially faculty and staff, are not held accountable to their actions.” Kwak said. “This case is very invalidating to survivors.”
In July 2015, Choudhry was found to have violated university sexual misconduct policy in a Title IX investigation conducted by the campus’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination.
Choudhry was placed on an indefinite leave of absence from his position as dean of the UC Berkeley Law School in March 2016 after Sorrell filed her lawsuit against him and the UC regents. He resigned from the position in March 2016 but remains on campus as a tenured professor who performs administrative duties.
“The Regents and Professor Choudhry are satisfied that this is an appropriate resolution, and they look forward to putting this matter behind them,” the campus said in a press release.
Levy said she could not comment further on the details regarding Sorrell’s settlement with the university at this time, but she released a statement from Sorrell regarding it.
“This has no doubt been a long and challenging road. However, together, we have covered a lot of ground, and there is still more work to be done,” Sorrell said in a statement. “I intend to stay involved with this cause and look forward to a day when sexual harassment and abuse is no longer denied, enabled, ignored, minimized, pacified or tolerated; and I am confident that efforts toward progress will continue to this end.”
Check back for updates.
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