Assistant sues UC Berkeley law dean for sexual harassment, dean takes leave of absence

Sujit Choundhry

BERKELEY (KRON) — The executive assistant to the dean of the University of California at Berkeley’s law school is suing the dean for sexual harassment, according to a complaint.

The complaint alleges the dean, Sujit Choundhry, kissed and touched Tyann Sorrell inappropriately since September 2014, but he received only a temporary pay cut as punishment.

The complaint also stated the behavior began as “bear hugs” but then became hugging and kissing on her cheek daily, about five-to-six times a day.

The hugs became “tighter and he [continued to] kissed me on the cheek,” according to the complaint. Over time, Sorrell said in the complaint she started to feel “smothered” and “encroached upon,” with the hugs from Choundhry becoming “more lingering.”

A kiss on the cheek would come after the lingering hugs, the complaint said.

The assistant filed a state lawsuit on Tuesday against the Berkeley law dean and the university’s governing board over the alleged harassment and what she claims were inadequate steps to address it.

In the complaint, Sorrell claimed the dean would come up behind her while she was at her desk typing and start rubbing her shoulders from behind. Then, he would rub the side of her arms from her shoulders to her elbows, and then kiss her on the cheek from behind.

The complaint also said the dean squeezed her arm when he passed by her desk.

Sorrell says she worked for the school’s previous dean without incident but alleges Choundhry subjected her to unwanted physical contact almost daily.

The dean’s office referred calls to a campus spokesman, who says a statement is forthcoming.

Another Berkeley Law dean, John Dwyer, resigned in 2002 after a former student accused him of molesting her after a night of drinking.

Claude Steele, Berkeley’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, issued the following statement on the sexual harrasment allegations:

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 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.

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 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.

According to his bio, Choudhry joined Berkeley Law in July of 2014. Before coming to UC Berkeley, he was a Professor of Law at the NYU School of Law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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