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The Never-Ending Story (of Sexual Harassment at UC Berkeley’s School of Law)


A couple weeks ago, we covered the case of Sujit Choudhry, former Berkeley Law dean. Then, the news was his return to campus. There’s a new development: he’s suing the university.

A quick recap to get us up to speed: Choudhry was dean when his executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell, accused him of sexual harassment. Choudhry claimed that all those long hugs, kisses, and massages were strictly nonsexual — sure they were; you’re dean of a top-10 law school and that’s really the best defense you can come up with? The university found that Choudhry had violated policy, which isn’t surprising given the conduct, and then gave him a comically light punishment, which isn’t surprising given UC Berkeley’s recent history of not taking similar allegations among other creepy old male professors seriously.

Choudhry resigned his position as dean but kept his job as a law professor and his tenure. Janet Napolitano, president of the UC system, pushed for a second disciplinary hearing — one that might actually get Choudhry fired — and the university reopened the investigation. Choudhry filed a grievance back in April and now he’s suing.

In his lawsuit, he complains that he’s being punished twice for the same offense and alleges racial discrimination. The university let all the white lechers off with lighter punishments, so this drive to hold Choudhry accountable must have to do with his South Asian descent.

If you’re studying for the LSAT, you probably recognized the jump from correlation to causation in that reasoning. You also should know to think about alternate causes. Here’s one: UC Berkeley has been under fire for treating these kinds of cases too lightly in general. The chancellor is resigning as a result. Choudhry’s case coincides with a push from the UC system to get more serious about sexual offenses and with the departure of the administrators who didn’t take these cases seriously.

LSAT students should also know that one way to weaken a causal argument is to show the effect without the cause in a relevantly similar situation. To that end, let’s look at the case of former vice-chancellor Graham Fleming. He, too, was punished lightly for sexual harassment and shuffled out of his administrative position and into a sinecure that allowed him to expense global travel. Napolitano intervened in his case, too, demanding that he be fired from his new position. Choudhry could reasonably point out that Fleming’s tenure was never threatened. But Fleming’s case shows that Napolitano has been intervening in other cases, too, to combat the university’s lax punishments.

I’m not a lawyer and so I won’t comment on Choudhry’s lawsuit’s chances. Whatever happens in the end, this whole thing seems destined to drag on for a while. While I can’t muster much (any) sympathy for Choudhry, he’s right about one thing: the university should have gotten his punishment right the first time. But I’m certain he and I have markedly different opinions about what that means.