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UC Berkeley Law School Dean On Leave Following Sexual Harassment Suit

BERKELEY (CBS SF) -- The dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law has been placed on leave from his post following revelations he is being sued for sexual harassment.

Dean Sujit Choudhry and the UC Board of Regents were sued Tuesday by his former executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell, who claimed in her suit Choudhry inappropriately touched, hugged and kissed her within months after becoming dean in 2014.

The contact included rubbing her arms and back, along with bear hugs that pressed her body against his, according to the complaint, "Choudhry's kissing and hugging plaintiff was a near daily occurrence," the lawsuit states.

The 41-year-old Sorrell said in her lawsuit the harassment occurred between September 2014 and March 2015 and that when she reported it to superiors, they failed to stop it and later tried to retaliate against her.

"I can't put into words how unprotected and unsupported I felt," Sorrell told KPIX 5.

Sorrell claimed in the lawsuit the harassment made her dread going to work and led to anxiety, depression and loss of sleep

Wednesday afternoon, Choudhry released a statement addressing the lawsuit:

As many of you know, I have been named as a defendant, along with the University of California, in a lawsuit commenced by a member of our staff. While I disagree with the plaintiff's claims and allegations, and will defend against them, I am unfortunately unable to comment on the substance of the lawsuit. However, I can say that I cooperated fully with, and take extremely seriously, the University's confidential investigation into this matter and ensuing sanction. I will continue to cooperate fully with the University as matters unfold.

In light of the filing of this lawsuit, I will immediately begin a leave of absence as Dean of Berkeley Law, in order to ensure that this lawsuit does not become a distraction for the Law School, the University, and our community, whose interests I have always placed above all else.

A university investigation concluded in July 2015 that "a preponderance of evidence" indicated Choudhry "violated the sexual harassment provisions of the UC Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence."

UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele said Wednesday that Choudhry would remain a faculty member with salary but would take an indefinite leave of absence.

Steele also said Choudhry's salary would be docked by 10 percent for one year and he was ordered him to write an apology letter to Sorrell and undergo counseling. "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," said Steele.

Sorrell also alleged in the lawsuit that Steele told her he had "seriously considered terminating the Dean" but decided not to because "it would ruin the Dean's career."

"Those words just pierced right through me," said Sorrell. "While I understood that he had to take many things under consideration ... the system not being ruinous to the dean's career, meant ruining mine."

Sorrell claimed Steele also told her that Choudhry could still be on staff because he didn't violate the faculty code of conduct.

In 2002, the dean of UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law Dean John Dwyer resigned after he was accussed of sexually harassing a former student. Dwyer denied the charges but admitted to a consensual encounter with the student.

Last October, world-renowned UC Berkeley astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy stepped down after he was found to have violated campus sexual harassment policies for years.


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