The dean of UC Berkeley’s School of Law is taking an “indefinite leave of absence” from his position, according to a statement Claude Steele, Berkeley’s executive vice chancellor and provost, released Wednesday night.
The announcement comes on the heels of news that the dean, Sujit Choudhry, is being sued by his executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell.
Sorrell is accusing Choudhry of sexual harassment, assault, battery, and infliction of emotional distress, according to a complaint published by Above the Law.
The suit claims Choudhry began harassing Tyann Sorrell, his assistant, several months after he became the school’s dean in July 2014 and continued to do so until she took leave from work the following March.
Choudhry gave his assistant unwanted “bear hugs” that escalated include kisses on Sorrell’s face, shoulder rubbing, and caressing, according to the complaint.
The allegations were investigated by the school’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD). The OPHD’s report, sent to Business Insider along with Steele’s statement, concluded that Choudhry’s “kissing, hugging, and touching” was “unwelcome and of a sexual nature” and that the behaviour “explicitly affected” Sorrell’s employment.
The report noted that Choudrhy did not dispute the conduct he was accused of, but disagreed with how frequently it occurred. Sorrell claimed that the behaviour ocurred multiple times daily, while, in the course of the investigation, Choudhry stated that the behaviour ocurred “no more than once or twice a week.”
During an interview as part of the OPHD investigation, Choudhry also said that there was no “sexual intent” behind his behaviour and that hugs and kisses were something he did to “say thanks for managing the office” after long days.
In response to the finding that Choudhry had violated the university’s policies on sexual harassment and sexual violence, Choudhry’s pay was docked 10%, and he was required to attend counseling at his own expense, according to Steele.
Sorrell’s filing also claims that she was not the only recipient of inappropriate treatment by Choudhry:
In approximately February 2015, Plaintiff visited [chief of staff Areca Smit] while Smit was in hospital and told Smit that she was tired of Choudhry touching and kissing her. Smit told Plaintiff that Choudhry hugged and kissed her too and that it made her uncomfortable as well. Smit also disclosed that she had had conversations with another woman at Berkeley Law School and that this other woman had told her her that Choudhry also hugged and kissed her in a manner that made her uncomfortable.
The Regents of the University of California is also named as a defendant in Sorrell’s suit.
This is not the first allegation of sexual harassment made against a Berkeley law school dean. In 2002, then-dean John P. Dwyer resigned after a sexual harassment investigation. Dwyer admitted to a consensual sexual incident with a student at the school.
An interim replacement for Choudhry has not yet been announced, but is coming “soon,” according to Steele’s statement.
The dean’s office had no comment to offer on the suit.
Here is Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele’s full statement:
Sujit Choudhry will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from his position as dean of Berkeley Law, stepping down to his faculty position and salary. We will have an announcement as soon as possible about an interim replacement. Attached is the full report of the investigation conducted by the university’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination.
A thorough investigation of this case found that Dean Choudhry’s behaviour in this situation 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. Based on the findings of the investigation I believed that a combination of disciplinary actions, monitoring of his behaviour and formal training would be an appropriate and effective response, and would produce the necessary changes in his behaviour.
I docked Choudhry’s salary as dean by 10%. I required him to immediately engage in counseling at his own expense and I instructed him to make an apology to the employee. At the same time, I granted her a fully paid administrative leave — which she is still on — and once she felt ready to return to the workplace, we supported her search to find a position on campus that meets her interests and needs.
I know we all share the goal of eliminating of sexual harassment and all forms of discriminatory behaviour at UC Berkeley. I intend to listen carefully to what members of our campus community and others have to suggest when it comes to how we prevent and respond to incidents like these.
Here is the complaint, filed March 8th:
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