Sujit Choudhry, former dean of UC Berkeley’s Law School, filed a lawsuit Sept. 15 against University of California president Janet Napolitano and UC Regents, alleging that racial discrimination was the motivation behind an investigation into sexual harassment claims against him.
In his lawsuit, the Indian American educator alleged that professors of Caucasian descent who were accused of sexual harassment faced no punishment from the university. The tenured professor, who in March stepped down from his post as dean of the law school – known as Boalt Hall – has returned to campus, though he is teaching no classes. He was accused of sexually harassing his executive assistant Tyann Sorrell, giving her hugs and kisses on the cheek.
The University of California’s Office of Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination investigated Sorrell’s complaint last year and found Choudhry guilty of harassing his assistant. The professor was docked 10 percent of his pay, and had to write a letter of apology to Sorrell, who filed a lawsuit against her former boss in March.
In the lawsuit and during the investigation, Choudhry admitted that he hugged Sorrell and kissed her on the cheek, but with no sexual intent. He claimed it was a way to thank her for a job well done.
Choudhry alleged in his lawsuit that Napolitano ordered Executive Vice Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to “take steps to ensure that Sujit Choudhry does not return to the UC Berkeley campus for the remainder of the term.” She further stated that the “University does not intend to defend or indemnify former Dean Choudhry in the litigation currently pending against him.”
On March 15, Choudhry received an e-mail from the university stating there would be a second investigation of Sorrell’s allegations against him. “A second investigation of identical conduct is not contemplated anywhere in UC Berkeley’s written disciplinary policies,” stated Choudhry in his lawsuit. He further alleged that Napolitano and Dirks had initiated the second investigation.
“By targeting Professor Choudhry who is of South Asian descent and a non U.S citizen, the university hopes to deflect from its failure to meaningfully punish Caucasian faculty and administrators who were found to have committed appalling sexual misconduct,” stated the lawsuit.
In 2014, Graham Fleming, UC Berkeley’s former vice chancellor for research and professor of chemistry, was accused of sexual misconduct by one of his employees, who alleged that the professor had kissed her neck and told her about sexual liaisons with his female graduate students. News reports indicate that Fleming had sexually harassed students and employees since 2001.
Fleming resigned his administrative position, but is still a tenured faculty member at UC Berkeley. “Fleming has not faced any further faculty discipline or a second, duplicate investigation,” stated the lawsuit.
Choudhry also alleged that Geoffrey Marcy, a former professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley who had been accused of sexually harassing several female students, continued to receive full pay and benefits even after he was found guilty of sexual misconduct. Marcy, who retired in 2015, remains a Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, and will receive full pension benefits, according to the lawsuit. Choudhury alleged that neither Fleming nor Marcy was banned from campus after they were found guilty. He is suing to prohibit the university from initiating a second investigation.
Six days after he returned to campus, The Daily Cal – UC Berkeley’s student newspaper – published a letter written by Choudhry, in which he wrote of the victimization he and his family have faced since Sorrell made her lawsuit public in March.
“Let’s be clear. Sexual violence of all forms is horrendous and never, ever acceptable. I share and agree with your instinctive reaction to protect and support victims of sexual predation everywhere,” wrote Choudhry.
“Let’s also be clear on this: I acted with no sexual intent towards Ms. Sorrell. I am not a predator and have never been accused of being one until now. In the face of public hysteria, I am the predator who never was.”
In the letter, Choudhry wrote that he had never been banned from campus, contradicting his assertion in the lawsuit that Napolitano had ordered his ban from campus for the remainder of the term.
(This story, originally published Sept. 15, was updated Sept. 20.)