The Dean of UC Berkeley Law School sexually harassed his employees, but was allowed to keep his job out of concern for his future career prospects, a suit brought by a former employee alleges. The suit, filed Tuesday by Dean Sujit Choudhry's former assistant Tyann Sorrell, claims that even though an internal UC Berkeley investigation proved her allegations to be accurate, the Dean received merely a slap on the wrist and was allowed to keep his job.
Sorrell says she first complained to her superiors about Choudhry hugging and kissing her daily, reports the New York Times, and then after her reports went unheeded she contacted the human resources department. Court papers note that in July 2015 an internal UC Berkeley investigation determined that Choudhry had indeed violated the school's sexual harassment policy.
"A zero-tolerance policy means you’re fired," the Times reports Sorrell's lawyer, John D. Winer, as observing.
But Choudhry was not fired. Instead, the Chronicle reports, Provost Claude Steele decided to dock the Dean's pay by 10 percent for one year, require him to undergo counseling, make him apologize, and allow Sorrell to go on paid leave.
When pressed, the Times reports Sorrell alleges in the suit that Steele told her he did not terminate or further discipline Choudhry for fear it “would ruin the dean’s career, that is, destroy his future chances for higher appointment.” This despite the fact that, according to Steele, an internal investigation confirmed that Choudhry “violated policy, and that he demonstrated a failure to understand the power dynamic and the effect of his actions on the plaintiff personally and in her employment.”
This calls to mind the case of prominent UC Berkeley astronomy professor Geoff Marcy who last year was found by an internal investigation to have repeatedly sexually harassed numerous students over the course of years. In that case, before the news garnered national attention, the University thought the best way to censure Marcy was a stern request for him to never do it again.
Following the announcement of the suit, Choudhry said yesterday in a statement that he would take a leave.
"While I disagree with the plaintiff’s claims and allegations, and will defend against them, I am unfortunately unable to comment on the substance of the lawsuit," Choudhry wrote in a Facebook post. "However, I can say that I cooperated fully with, and take extremely seriously, the University’s confidential investigation into this matter and ensuing sanction."
Sorrell, allegedly, was not the only target of Choudhry's unwanted attention. Two other UC Berkeley employees, reports the Daily Californian, are also named as having been harassed by Choudhry.
Sorrell is suing, notes the Californian, for "sexual harassment, retaliation, failure to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment and retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, failure to discharge a mandatory statutory duty and violation of business and professions code."
This news, perhaps, casts the below March 8 tweet from the UC Berkeley School of Law in an entirely new light. We here at SFist can only hope that Sorrell's suit will help to make a difference and advance justice in the world of UC Berkeley.