University of California at Berkeley law school dean Sujit Choudhry has resigned amid an uproar over the school’s handling of sexual harassment claims against him.
Administrators said Thursday that they were wrong in not removing Choudhry following a July 2015 report substantiating the claims. Choudhry now becomes the second Berkeley law dean forced out by sex harassment claims since 2002, and the second prominent faculty member accused of such conduct in the last year.
“We can and must do better as a campus administration,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Provost Claude Steele said in a statement. “We must move in the direction of stronger sanctions, and in doing this we want and need the broad input of the campus community.”
Choudhry’s administrative assistant, Tyann Sorrell, complained of nearly daily sexual harassment by Choudhry involving “rude and demeaning” conduct and unwanted kissing, hugging and other physical conduct, according to a report provided by the school.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, she said the conduct began soon after Choudhry took over as dean in July 2014. It started, she said, with “bear hugs” but soon progressed to kissing and other unwanted contact.
“Invariably, in response to Choudhry’s hugs she would keep her arms at her sides and make her body go limp until she thought he was done,” according to the lawsuit. “Then, so as not to upset him, she would politely push him off. In response to his kisses she would freeze and try to pretend it did not happen.”
In the lawsuit, Sorrell said she repeatedly brought the issue up to superiors, but school officials failed to act to stop the conduct.
Probe finds merit to sex harassment claims
The lawsuit came seven months after a campus investigation found merit to Sorrell’s claims, saying Choudhry has engaged in a daily pattern of “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” that personally and professionally affected the assistant and violated school policy.
According to the report, Choudhry acknowledged some of the behaviors, but said they occurred less frequently than Sorrell claimed.
At the time, Steele docked Choudhry’s pay by 10%, required him to undergo counseling and to apologize to his assistant. But he allowed the dean to go on leading the prestigious law school, considered one of the best in the nation.
After Sorrell filed the lawsuit, the university placed the dean on indefinite leave Wednesday. A day later, the school announced he had stepped aside.
“We believe the dean’s resignation is an outcome in the best interests of Berkeley Law and the university as a whole,” Dirks and Steele wrote. “At the same time we are under no illusion that a resignation could or even should bring this matter and broader, related issues to a close.”
Berkeley protects perpetrators, students claim
Student leaders said Thursday that they were disgusted by what had happened.
“This incident highlights UC Berkeley’s history of insulating those who perpetuate sexual violence against members of our community and the culture that allows them to thrive,” Coalition For Diversity Co-Chair Kyneshawau Hurd and student association member Sloan Patrice Whiteside said in an open letter to school officials.
In a statement following the leave announcement but before his resignation, Choudhry said he agreed to step aside to prevent the lawsuit from becoming a distraction to the school.
“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,” he said in a statement provided by the school.
“However, I can say that I cooperated fully with, and take extremely seriously, the University’s confidential investigation into this matter and ensuing sanction. I will continue to cooperate fully with the University as matters unfold.”
Choudhry remains a member of the faculty. It is unclear whether he will retain that position.
In 2002, John Dwyer was forced to resign from his post as dean of the Berkeley law school over sexual harassment allegations involving a former student, according to the school. Last year, an astronomy professor at the school resigned following disclosure of sexual harassment claims involving him.