In March, Sujit Choudhry, then dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, announced that he would take an “indefinite leave of absence” from his position after Tyann Sorrell, his executive assistant, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the university. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that Choudhry, who remains a tenured faculty member in the law school, has filed a grievance letter accusing the university of violating his due process rights and destroying his professional reputation.
Choudhry resigned his deanship after Sorrell’s lawsuit, which alleges that Choudhry began sexually harassing her in 2014, revealed that the former dean had been investigated by the UC Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination in July 2015. In the suit, Sorrell alleges that it took months of formal complaints before the university acted, but when it did, its investigation found Choudhry in violation of its sexual harassment policies. During the course the investigation, Choudhry admitted to “hugging, kissing, massaging or caressing Sorrell at least multiple times per week.” He also admitted to engaging in similar behavior with other female employees.
Instead of removing Choudhry from his position, UC Berkeley reduced his pay by 10 percent and required him to write a letter of apology to Sorrell. According to Sorrell’s lawsuit, she was told that Choudhry would not be fired, “because it would ruin the Dean’s career.”
After Sorrell’s lawsuit became public, the university launched another investigation that could ultimately lead to the termination of Choudhry’s tenured faculty position. WSJ reports that Choudhry filed a letter of grievance last week, which argues that public comments by University of California system president Janet Napolitano have left his public reputation in tatters.
On March 11, Napolitano asked the university to take additional action that could lead to Choudhry’s termination, including a new review process. In a letter to deans, Napolitano addressed her concerns about the university’s handling of sexual harassment cases. She said the university must ensure that sexual harassment cases are treated “firmly, fairly and expeditiously and that appropriate sanctions are imposed that recognize the serious nature of these claims.”
In his 29-page grievance letter, Choudhry says that the “kissing and hugging” which he acknowledged was not sexual in nature (“gestures of support,” his attorney said). He also argues that the university’s new conduct investigation is a violation of his due-process rights and that Napolitano has acted recklessly. From WSJ’s excerpt:
Before President Napolitano used the power of her position to publicly condemn me, portray my conduct falsely, and make me a pariah at UC Berkeley, I would have had the chance to preserve my academic career. But her decision to shame me in the press and direct my ouster has destroyed my professional reputation. While the road forward for me as a faculty member at UC Berkeley is challenging, to say the least, the conduct of university officials in this grievance has made that road even rockier. President Napolitano’s conduct in my case should serve as a warning to all University of California faculty and staff whose careers and livelihoods are considered secondary to the leadership’s need to deflect public criticism and respond to public controversy.
At the most basic level, I am an employee of the University of California, and the head of our university chose to pillory me publicly without first attempting to learn and understand the facts of what occurred, and then to fairly assess how the university’s own processes had been followed and applied in my case, including the sanctions that the UC Berkeley administration had offered and I had accepted as part of a settlement. Had I known that my fate could turn on her reckless conduct, I could and would have pursued other options to preserve my future and protect my wife and children.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, however, told The Daily Californian that the university code of conduct allows for “administrative action” against Choudhry. “The administration’s steps have complied with University policy and reflect the seriousness of the conduct described in the investigative report issued by the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination,” Mogulof told the paper.
Meanwhile, the university, which has faced substantial criticism for its poor handling of high-profile sexual harassment cases, is currently investigating 17 sexual harassment claims. In a recent profile in The Guardian, Tyann Sorrel said that Berkeley purposefully mishandled her claims and was “willing to at any cost preserve a career.”
Image via AP.