BERKELEY, Calif. ― The dean of UC Berkeley’s law school went on an indefinite leave of absence from the post Wednesday after his executive assistant sued him over allegations of sexual harassment and the university for allegedly not doing enough to prevent it.
Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry will remain as a faculty member and earn a professor’s salary at the school while an interim dean serves in his place, Provost Claude Steele announced in a statement Wednesday.
Choudhry’s assistant, Tyann Sorrell, said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the dean acknowledged kissing and touching her repeatedly but received only a temporary pay cut as punishment following a campus investigation last year.
The suit comes nearly five months after a prominent astronomer at Berkeley, Geoffrey Marcy, resigned amid a national outcry over revelations that the school had substantiated sexual harassment complaints from former female students without demoting or suspending him from his job.
Sorrell’s lawyer, John Winer, said that as in the Marcy case, Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination concluded her complaints were credible and that Choudhry’s behavior had violated campus sex harassment policies.
A written report from the campus investigation states that the dean “does not dispute the conduct occurred since he started his job….The only disagreement is how often the conduct occurred,” Winer said, reading from the document.
Sorrell, 41, said the unwanted physical contact ― which included bear hugs, arm and shoulder rubs, and kisses on the face ― happened multiple times on a near-daily basis, while Choudhry said it was once or twice a week at most, according to Winer. The lawyer said he could not share the full report because it was marked as confidential.
In her lawsuit, the married mother of five said she worked for the school’s previous dean without incident for two years. She says the problems with Choudhry started within months of his assuming the dean’s job in July 2014.
Steele confirmed that campus investigators found that the dean’s behavior violated campus policies and that Choudhry “demonstrated a failure to understand the power dynamic and the effect of his actions on the plaintiff personally and in her employment.”
Steele said he decided that docking the dean’s salary by 10 percent for one year, requiring him to undergo counseling, making him apologize, and allowing Sorrell to go on leave with full pay “would be an appropriate and effective response, and would produce the necessary changes in his behavior.”
Another Berkeley Law dean, John Dwyer, resigned in 2002 after a former student accused him of molesting her after a night of drinking at her apartment.
Dwyer at the time described the relationship as consensual but said he acted inappropriately.