The University of California announced late on Friday afternoon settlement in the March 2016 lawsuit filed by Tyann Sorrell, alleging sexual harassment by then-UC Berkeley law school dean Sujit Choudhry. Sorrell sought damages against the university and Choudhry. At the same time, the university settled the legal disputes it had with Choudhry, arising from the lawsuit and subsequent events.
Sorrell had alleged she was subject to “near daily” harassment, including hugging and kissing from September 2014 until March 2015, when Sorrell used her own sick and vacation time to go on leave (read her full suit). Her suit was filed following the conclusion of an internal investigation by the Office for Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD). The OPHD findings that Choudhry had violated the university’s policies were sent to then-Executive Vice Chancellor Claude Steele, who docked Choudhry’s salary by 10% for one year and required a letter of apology to Sorrell. Steele resigned his administrative post to return to teaching in the psychology department in April 2016.
University of California President Janet Napolitano, faced with a growing storm about sexual harassment at UC Berkeley and other UC campuses, asked UC Berkeley administrators to start a second internal disciplinary procedure against Choudhry, through the Committee on Privilege and Tenure. Choudhry in turn filed a grievance against the Committee on Privilege and Tenure in April 2016, followed by a charge with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August 2016, followed by a suit against the UC Regents, Napolitano, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, and others in September 2016. Choudhry dismissed that suit in November 2016.
Friday’s settlement resolved all the various claims, and all the legal actions and disciplinary procedures have been withdrawn.
As part of the settlement, Choudhry will pay $50,000 to charities of Sorrell’s choice and $50,000 to Sorrell’s lawyers. Choudhry, who resigned as dean in March 2016 when Sorrell filed her suit, will voluntarily resign from the faculty on May 31, 2018. He will continue to use an office in University Hall until the end of the current academic year, and not be present at the law school. He will then go on unpaid sabbatical for one year, until his resignation from the faculty. He will not be present at the law school during the sabbatical.
Choudhry is still listed on the Berkeley Law website as the I. Michael Heyman Professor of Law.
As part of the settlement, Sorrell agreed to a statement where she recognized and appreciated the steps that the university has recently taken to increase its training and prevention activities regarding sexual harassment. Moreover, she said she is pleased that the university is reexamining all of its policies regarding sexual harassment, whether the harassment involves students, faculty, staff or administrators. Sorrell said she hopes that this progress will continue and that the voices of those who have experienced sexual harassment will be part of the dialogue for change.
But Sorrell was not party to the university’s agreement with Choudhry. On Friday, through her lawyers, Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams, Sorrell criticized the agreement.
“This deal insults all who suffer harassment at the hands of those with power and privilege,” she said.
Leslie F. Levy, the lawyer who represented Sorrell in the lawsuit, said, “A year ago UC President Janet Napolitano called for disciplinary process that could have led to Choudhry’s loss of tenure. Now they’ve done an about-face and are letting him off with no discipline and a clean record. This is just one more example of UC refusing to take sexual harassment seriously and once again offering a soft landing even after a finding of harassment.”
Levy went on to say, “It is no accident that UC opted to make this public late on a Friday evening, attempting to avoid the scrutiny of the public and the reaction of the students to their continued mishandling of these matters.”
She further reiterated that, despite any implications to the contrary, “This deal was made between the University and Choudhry. Ms. Sorrell finds the package of benefits provided to Choudhry in this settlement to be outrageous.”
The Choudhry case arose less than five months after Geoff Marcy, a member of UC Berkeley’s astronomy department, left the university following a campus investigation that found him guilty of sexually harassing students. More recently, architecture professor Nezar AlSayyad was suspended from teaching for one semester after an OPHD investigation. And last month, famed philosopher John Searle and the UC Regents were sued by Joanna Ong, who alleged she was fired from her job as a research assistant for rejecting Searle’s advances.