Photo by Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)
Photo by Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Ex-UC Berkeley Dean Claims Racial Discrimination

Ex-U.C. Berkeley Law School Dean Sujit Choudhry filed a lawsuit on Thursday that accuses the university’s governing board of making him “a pariah” and discriminating based on his race, in the wake of a scandal in which his assistant accused him of inappropriate hugging and kissing.

Choudhry filed his suit in Oakland federal court against the University of California Regents, and its individual members on claims they violated his fourteenth amendment rights to due process, equal protection and against racial discrimination.

The suit centers on the university’s response to allegations by Choudhry’s former assistant that he acted inappropriately towards her, which included — by his own admission — kissing her on the cheek. He claims he apologized in writing, accepted a 10 percent pay cut and enrolled himself in professional coaching under a settlement approved by the U.C. Berkeley leadership in July 2015.

But in March 2016, his assistant filed a lawsuit that accused him and the U.C. Regents of sexual harassment and retaliation, including that he rubbed her shoulders and arms, kissed her cheeks and gave bear hugs that pressed her body against him.

“In the media firestorm that followed, [Janet] Napolitano directed that the University start new disciplinary proceedings against Professor Choudhry for the very same conduct for which he had already been punished,” his complaint says.

The suit claims Napolitano is trying to punish him a second time in order to burnish the university’s image, and to take a public stand against sexual harassment after it had failed to do so in previous incidents involving white professors. 

Choudhry claims he was treated unfairly because he is South-Asian (Indian) and a non-U.S. citizen.

The U.C. Regents released a statement: “The University was made aware of this new litigation only on Thursday afternoon, and counsel has not yet had an opportunity to thoroughly review the complaint. At this point what can be said is that the University intends to mount a vigorous and successful defense.”

Napolitano was not immediately available for comment.

Choudhry is being represented by William Taylor, of Zuckerman Spaeder in Washington, D.C., best known for representing white collar defendants, such as former French politician Dominique Strauss Kahn when he was accused of assaulting a hotel housekeeper in Manhattan.

The legal team representing Choudhry also includes Jamie L. Dupree, of San Francisco’s Futterman Dupree Dodd Croley Maier.

His lawsuit claims the university refuses to assign him classes, and has threatened to ban him from campus. Meanwhile, other Caucasian professors accused of sexual misconduct have not been punished like he has, according to the suit.

The complaint cites U.C. Berkeley’s vice chancellor for research and professor of chemistry Graham Fleming, who was accused of sexual misconduct with one or more subordinate employees in his office, according to the complaint.

It cites “information and belief” that Fleming was allowed to keep his tenured position as a professor after resigning from his administrative role as vice chancellor of research. Napolitano directed that investigation, according to the complaint.

His complaint also claims Geoffrey Marcy, a professor of astronomy, retired in 2015 amid an investigation of sexual harrasement and misconduct with students. Marcy was allowed to retire and receive compensation until the end of 2015, according to Choudhry’s complaint.

Both Fleming and Marcy are Caucasian and U.S. citizens. according to the complaint.

Fleming, through a spokesman, called Choudhry’s allegations against him in the complaint “factually incorrect and misleading” and denied that the university’s investigation was independent.

“Dr. Fleming strongly denies he violated any University policy, or that he engaged in sexual harassment of a staffer.  All of his interactions with the staff member were consensual and were not unwelcome. Moreover, Dr. Fleming denies that he ever expressed any “sexual interest” in the staffer. Her allegations would not have withstood the scrutiny of a court of law, yet Dr. Fleming was stripped of his position and his reputation irreparably harmed as a direct result of the flawed procedures followed by the University,” the spokesman said in a statement over email.

Marcy could not be reached for comment.

On his website, Marcy denied there was ever any sex and said he stepped down to relieve pressure on this colleagues.

“Geoff’s decision to step down from his position at the university by retiring was not triggered by the allegations, which were already known by the relevant parties at UC Berkeley,” the website states.

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