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Sept. 16 — The former dean of the UC-Berkeley School of Law sued for race bias, alleging that a sexual harassment case against him was used to improve the state university system’s image after it faced national criticism for mishandling harassment allegations against faculty ( Choudhry v. Regents of Univ. of Cal. , N.D. Cal., No. 3:16-cv-05281, complaint filed 9/15/16 ).
Sujit Choudhry and Berkeley resolved sexual harassment complaints by Tyann Sorrell, his former assistant, in July 2015. An investigation found that Choudhry would kiss and touch Sorrell in an unwelcome, sexual manner. A settlement approved by UC’s “entire leadership” cut Choudhry’s salary by 10 percent and required him to pay for and undergo professional training and make an apology, according to the complaint.
Choudhry alleges that UC has been trying to strip him of tenure and ban him from campus since Sorrel filed a civil lawsuit and following reports that it mishandled other serious cases of sexual misconduct. He alleges that this “second, duplicative” disciplinary process violates his constitutional due process rights and is also discriminatory. Choudhry resigned from his position as dean but is still a professor at Berkeley.
“By targeting Professor Choudhry, who is of South Asian descent and a non-U.S. citizen, the University hopes to deflect attention from its failure to meaningfully punish Caucasian faculty and administrators who were found to have committed appalling sexual misconduct,” Choudhry claims.
The university has contended that the previous discipline was only administrative and was taken in connection with Choudhry’s appointment as dean. According to Choudhry’s complaint, a letter from the university stated its position that it has a right to discipline him again under the Faculty Code of Conduct—as a professor.
“One thing that’s critical in these contexts is that discipline should be consistent for people who are similarly situated,” Washington, D.C., attorney Donald M. Temple told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 16. Temple represented a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia in a 2014 race and sex bias claim related to tenure denial.
“If there are other professors or administrators who have received less severe punishment, and their actions were basically somehow sanctioned to accommodate their continued employment, then there’s inconsistency,” and therefore possible illegality, Temple said.
The attorney said the “question of precedent” is also important here, in relation to Choudhry’s charge that he’s being disciplined twice for the same conduct.
“There’s a question raised here about whether there’s procedural inconsistency in order to allow what is effectively disciplinary double jeopardy,” Temple told Bloomberg BNA.
The essential question is whether the university was consistent, Temple said. “The behavior may have been wrong, but you can’t tell me it’s wrong for me, then when a white guy does it, it’s not so bad.”
Attorneys for Sorrell couldn’t be reached for comment by late Sept. 16. University spokespersons told Bloomberg BNA that their attorneys haven’t had a chance to review the complaint, but they are planning to mount a vigorous and successful defense.
Choudhry cited two white faculty members who were found to have engaged in sexual misconduct: Graham Fleming, a vice chancellor, and Geoffrey Marcy, a renowned professor of astronomy.
Fleming was allowed to resign from his administrative position but retained his tenured professorship, Choudhry alleges. Marcy was allowed to resign while maintaining his pay and benefits until the end of 2015, and he still remains a professor emeritus.
The “pretextual proceeding against Professor Choudhry is a direct effort to minimize the University’s gross mismanagement of Ms. Sorrell’s employment and meager response to actual predatory conduct on campus,” the complaint says.
Choudhry also alleged that UC “deserted” Sorrell. The former executive assistant to the dean has applied for up to 10 positions with the university, including one with UC President Janet Napolitano’s office, but didn’t receive a single offer, Choudhry said in the lawsuit.
Zuckerman Spaeder LLP represents Choudhry. No attorneys for the university have entered an appearance yet.
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Text of the complaint is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Choudhry_v_Regents_of_the_University_of_California_et_al_Docket_N.
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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