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Berkeley Dean, Sued for Alleged Sexual Harassment, Will Take Leave of Absence

For the most up-to-date coverage, see this Chronicle article.

[Updated (3/9/2016, 5:50 p.m.) with news of Mr. Choudhry's leave of absence, and an accompanying statement from the university.]

The dean of the University of California at Berkeley’s law school, Sujit Choudhry, is being sued by his executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell, for sexual harassment and retaliation, among other things, reports The Daily Californian. According to the lawsuit, Mr. Choudhry gave Ms. Sorrell hugs and kisses, among other unwanted sexual contact, dating to the start of his deanship, in July 2014.

In July 2015, the suit says, the university’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination found that Mr. Choudhry had violated Berkeley’s sexual-harassment policies. He was disciplined with a 10-percent reduction in salary for one year and was required to write a letter of apology to Ms. Sorrell, the suit claims. It also says that the provost, Claude M. Steele, told Ms. Sorrell that he had considered terminating Mr. Choudhry but opted against it because doing so would “ruin the dean’s career,” the newspaper reports.

On Wednesday evening Mr. Steele said Mr. Choudhry would be taking “an indefinite leave of absence” from the deanship, resuming his faculty position. The university also released a redacted version of the report into Mr. Choudhry’s behavior. In a statement Mr. Steele confirmed that an investigation had found the dean in violation of the university’s harassment policy.

“I know we all share the goal of eliminating of sexual harassment and all forms of discriminatory behavior at UC Berkeley,” Mr. Steele said. “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. ”

Last fall sexual-harassment allegations against the prominent astronomer Geoffrey W. Marcy, then a professor at Berkeley, brought the university under scrutiny for how it had handled the case, with critics saying that Mr. Marcy, who later resigned from the university, had received only a “slap on the wrist.”

Here’s the full statement from Mr. Steele:

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.

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