Sujit Choudhry, Dean of the prestigious law school at the University of California at Berkeley, is taking an “indefinite leave of absence” from his position after he was sued for sexual harassment by his former executive assistant, who claims he made inappropriate advances toward her, officials at the University of California at Berkeley said.
Later reports say, the 45-year-old Indian-origin dean of a prestigious US law school has resigned from his post, days after a lawsuit was filed against him by his executive assistant alleging that he sexually harassed her over a period of several months.
University Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele said in a statement that Choudhry will be “stepping down to his faculty position and salary” and the school will name an interim dean. “A thorough investigation of this case found that Dean Choudhry’s behavior in this situation violated policy,” Steele said, “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.”
The complaint was filed against Berkeley Law Dean Sujit Choudhry and the University of California Board of Regents, claiming sexual harassment, retaliation and failure to stop it, among other actions. Tyann Sorrell, the former executive assistant, claims in the lawsuit that from September 2014 to March 2015, Choudhry sexually harassed her — rubbing her shoulders and arms, kissing her cheeks and giving her bear hugs that pressed her body against him, according to court documents. Sorrell claims that when she told supervisors, they first failed to stop Choudhry, and then tried to retaliate.
Choudhry has not yet spoken publicly about the allegations against him. Choudhry took over the position in July 2014, according to the university. Soon after, Sorrell claims, Choudhry started to initiate sexual contact.
Sorrell, a 41-year-old mother of five, claims in the lawsuit that “Choudhry’s kissing and hugging plaintiff was a near daily occurrence. The hugs became tighter and more lingering and the kissing more intimate in that over time Choudhry’s kisses began to land closer and closer” to her mouth, according to the court documents.
“She wondered what she had done to make him think it was OK for him to touch her,” according to the documents. “She was worried about her reputation and what her work colleagues thought of her. At the same time, she worried about upsetting him and possibly losing her job, on which her family depended.”
Sorrell said she is a victim of domestic and sexual abuse and claims in the lawsuit that the unwanted sexual contact made her anxious and depressed — causing her to lose sleep and dread her going to work. She said she suffered “insomnia, hair loss, depression and anxiety” as a result.
By March 2015, Sorrell said she had “had enough” and wrote a six-page email to Choudhry, telling him she felt “violated and humiliated” and forwarded the email to human resources, according to court documents.
It was reported to UC Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. “During the investigation, Dean Choudhry admitted to hugging, kissing, messaging (sic) and/or caressing” her several times a week, according to the documents. He purportedly said he had grabbed her hands, “putting them on his waist. He also admitted to hugging and kissing other female employees.”
The Berkeley School of Law was ranked No. 8 in the most recent U.S. News & World Report list of best American law schools. The law school has pioneered curriculums like intellectual property law and technology-related law and offers specialized curricular programs in areas such as Energy and Clean Technology Law and Environmental Law.
Choudhry is “an internationally recognized authority on comparative constitutional law and comparative constitutional development,” according to his Berkeley Law biography. He has served as a consultant to the World Bank Institute and is a member of the United Nations Mediation Roster. Prior to joining Berkeley Law, the biography states, Choudhry was a professor at the NYU School of Law and a faculty chair at the University of Toronto.
“In 2010, he was one of four Canadians to receive the Trudeau Fellowship, the Canadian equivalent of the MacArthur awards,” it states. “Professor Choudhry holds law degrees from Oxford, Toronto and Harvard, was a Rhodes Scholar, and served as law clerk to Chief Justice Antonio Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada.”
UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Provost Claude Steele said in a statement that they were wrong to not to take action against Choudhry even though the investigative report had supported the victim’s claims. “The dean’s resignation is an outcome in the best interests of Berkeley Law and the university as a whole. 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,” they said.