Former UC Berkeley employee sues UC Board of Regents over alleged wrongful termination

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Former UC Berkeley employee Alik Lee filed a lawsuit March 28 against the UC Board of Regents and two of his supervisors alleging wrongful termination based on his race, sex and age.

Lee was an administrator for UC Berkeley’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, or EPS, and the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, or BSL. He had reported numerous safety violations to his supervisors, defendants Richard Allen and Veronica Padilla. In January 2018, Lee was terminated 72 hours before his scheduled meeting with a campus sexual harassment investigator to discuss female student sexual harassment complaints that were reported to him in October 2017. According to Lee, his supervisors allegedly failed to notify the campus of these complaints. In January 2018, Lee cooperated with officials to launch an investigation into his termination.

During Lee’s time at EPS/BSL, he was the only Black employee. According to the lawsuit, other female and/or non-Black EPS/BSL employees had allegedly, in the past, reported sexual harassment allegations to their supervisors and were not terminated.

“Clearly there’s a problem at UC Berkeley,” Lee said in an email. “And I hope this lawsuit is the first step in making things move in the right direction for all students, no matter their gender or race.”

Lee’s lawsuit requests monetary damages, a review of all terminations by the campus and an “operational shutdown” until all campus employees, faculty members, students and volunteers review UC Berkeley’s policy on sexual harassment and discrimination, according to Lee.

Lee alleges he was terminated because he was “not a good fit for the department” and his skill set was “not at the caliber needed for EPS/BSL,” according to the lawsuit. Before his termination, Lee had allegedly never received complaints from management regarding his work performance.

After his termination, Lee demanded he be paid his back pay and reassigned to another position on campus. Allen and Padilla allegedly impaired Lee’s ability to find a new job by providing negative commentary and refusing to speak with potential new employers, according to the lawsuit. In October 2018, the UC Office of the President allegedly stated that it had no open positions for Lee despite its website indicating a number of jobs available for employees with his background, Lee said in an email.

“The campus is dedicated to providing a workplace that not only is free of discrimination and retaliation but one that fosters a supportive and welcoming environment where employees can do their best work,” said campus Associate Vice Chancellor for Communications and Public Affairs Diana Harvey in an email.

According to Harvey, UC Berkeley is unaware of a lawsuit filed by Lee. She added in her email that the campus Human Resources department will complete a formal investigation of the complaint.

“The lawsuit is necessary because the Courts will force the University to truthfully answer all the questions we have about my wrongful termination,” Lee said in an email. “The lawsuit will also allow us to ask hard hitting questions about its flawed discrimination and sexual harassment policy.”

Contact Emily Hom at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hom_emily.