UC Berkeley Law School Dean Sujit Choudhry took an indefinite leave of absence from his post Mar. 9 afternoon, following allegations of sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed by his executive assistant a day earlier.
The Indian American has served as dean of the noted school since 2014, and is the first person of Indian origin to be appointed to the post.
In the lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court Mar. 8, Tyann Sorell, who has served as an executive assistant in the law school since 2012, accused Choudhry of daily sexual harassment. The incidents began shortly after Choudhry was appointed to the post in July 2014, said Sorrell – a mother of five – in the lawsuit. The dean initially subjected his assistant to unwanted “bear hugs,” according to the lawsuit, which escalated into kissing. The executive assistant alleged that Choudhry would block the entrance to her cubicle so that she could not escape his unwanted advances.
On several occasions, Choudhry tried to kiss Sorrell on the lips, according to the lawsuit, and also forced her hands onto his waist. Sorrell said she felt “disgusted, humiliated, exposed and dirty” by the dean’s sexual advances, but feared that if she complained, she would lose her job and ability to support her family.
The lawsuit alleges that Choudhry also harassed Areca Smit, chief of staff at the law school, and Georgia Giatras, the senior assistant dean and chief operating officer of the law school.
The lawsuit was also filed against the UC Regents. Sorrell alleged that when she did complain, university officials did little to mitigate Choudhry’s behavior and, conversely, retaliated against her. Sorrell wrote Choudhry a six-page letter in March 2015.
During an internal investigation in July 2015, Choudhry admitted to kissing and hugging Sorrell.
He was docked 10 percent of his pay and asked to write a letter of apology to Sorrell. The executive assistant said she felt further humiliated after receiving the dean’s one-page note.
Sorrell took a leave of absence – which she is still on – saying that the situation had caused her to suffer from insomnia and depression. She is suing Choudhry and the Regents for an unstated amount of money.
Claude Steele, U.C. Berkeley’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, made the announcement of Choudhry’s indefinite departure from the law school. “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,” said Steele.
“A thorough investigation of this case found that Dean Choudhry’s behavior 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 behavior and formal training would be an appropriate and effective response, and would produce the necessary changes in his behavior,” said Steele, noting that he had docked Choudhry’s pay by 10 percent after the investigation determined that Choudhry had harassed Sorrell.
Steele released a copy of the university’s investigation with his statement and noted: “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,” said the vice chancellor.
“I know we all share the goal of eliminating of sexual harassment and all forms of discriminatory behavior 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,” said Steele.
Choudhry could not be reached for comment.