Shortly after executive assistant Tyann Sorrell filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against UC Berkeley School of Law dean Sujit Choudhry, the University announced that he would be taking an “indefinite leave of absence” from the deanship. Choudhry, who acknowledged in a university investigation that he had groped and kissed the plaintiff as well as other female employees, will continue to serve as a professor at the law school.
According to the lawsuit filed earlier this week, Choudhry admitted to “hugging, kissing, messaging or caressing Sorrell at least multiple times per week.” Rather than terminate Choudhry’s deanship, the university docked his pay by 10 percent. Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele told Sorrell that no further punishment would be pursued because “it would ruin the Dean’s career.”
On Wednesday, the university released a statement as well as the report (partially redacted) from Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination which confirmed many of Sorrell’s allegations against Choudry. The report concluded that Choudry had violated the university’s sexual harassment policy.
In the accompanying statement, stunning for its lack of awareness, Steele said: “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.”
A suggestion: a good way to eliminate sexual harassment is to fire people who are sexual harassers. Instead, Choudhry will continue employment at the university, serving in a position where he will have direct contact and authority over students, which truly seems like a terrible idea.
Steele’s statement in whole reads:
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.
Whether or not the law school’s decision will appease their students and alumni remains to be seen. Yesterday, law school alumni circulated a letter calling for Choudry’s termination. The letter, which describes the university’s response as “feeble,” paints Choudry’s employment as dean as, “unreasonable, laughable, and insulting—not only to the women in the Berkeley community.”
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Image via AP.